A Thrill of Hope

Advent always seems to come as a lifeline here at the end of Autumn, as the days darken and the trees lift their bare arms to the sky: the wordless groaning of creation under the yoke of Death. And we put away our memories of warm Summer days, clean up the remnants of garden and growing things, repair and reinforce home to protect us through the Winter, settle into our resigned hibernation along with the rest of creation until Spring breaks through once more. We know this cycle of life and death and life again, have turned with it all our lives, and still feel the loss at Autumn’s end. Somehow the weight of our mortality weighs heaviest here at the close of the year.

But then Advent dawns on us, quietly, like a secret waiting to be shared, and we light the first candle and hear the faint refrain: For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given…(Isaiah 9:6) And we remember that a Rescuer has come for us, and this endless cycle of life into death has been broken by a Resurrection. The weary world rejoices for the Life that is to come– a grateful chorus raising, here at the end of Autumn. Advent is about waiting, about reminding our hearts of the truths we already know, and need to know again.

So here in the dusk of the year we latch onto Hope that we have not been left alone in the dark, and our hearts swell with the Prophet’s old story we share again and again: The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; Those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them a light has shined. (Isaiah 9:2) And we know this is our story, and we string up the lights and sing the songs that tell of the Savior’s birth, and remind one another that He has come for us, and the Winter will not last forever.

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Here in the mystery
Son of God and Son of Man
Dawn is now breaking
Through thе skies of Bethlehеm
Earth meeting Heaven
As one baby cries
Death started running, running
And salvation arise

Savior, We Are Messengers

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When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.

John 8:12

Let Me Count The Ways You Love

I heard a story this week about a man who had a stroke three years ago. And every morning after that he woke up and gave thanks: for another day of life, for the sky and the sun, for his wife and family, for the walker that enabled him to get around. I am humbled by his habit of thanks, when I consider how easy it is to complain about the circumstances you’ve been given. And maybe he was humbled by this habit also. Maybe that was the secret of his joyful heart that refused to take anything for granted; just a humble heart that bowed to the will of his Maker every day, and accepted grace.

We are counting again, this November– in journals, on refrigerator reminders, on desks in the study– listing our blessings on paper to help us focus and remember that all is gift, and God is the giver. We are doing it as a worthwhile Thanksgiving holiday project, healthy for mind and spirit. But what we have discovered is that it is a valuable discipline for year-round orienting of our hearts on the Provider…so that we can live humbly and worshipfully in His presence. For some especially, it is a lifeline of hope this month, a necessary looking for God’s presence and power in our lives, a choice to take feelings captive and submit them to the truth of God’s loving faithfulness. “…I know the plans I have for you,” He whispers. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11) 

But thankfulness is never automatic. Just like we teach our children to take the time to honor the gift-giver with a thank you, we need to train our hearts to do the same.  It is at the heart of Self-sufficiency to take for granted all these daily things, chalk them up to our own worth and deserving place in the universe. It usually requires a rather serious overturning of perspectives to see it all as Grace and ourselves as the needy recipients. And those who have been shaken can resonate with the Singer’s words: “For you have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling….I will offer to you the sacrifice of thanksgiving and call on the name of the Lord.” (Psalm 116:8,17) Only the rescued and the forgiven truly know what a treasure Grace is.

Wherever we are today, we will choose to be thankful. Because He is God and we are His people. It is the right response to the God Who Is Enough, and in it we find an unexpected pathway to joy.

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“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

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“To celebrate life is simply a choice. Every day, God extends his hand to offer me the gift of another day to live. I have the choice to take that gift and turn it into 24 hours of real life in Christ, or just let it become another 24 hours endured in a broken world. If I choose to accept it—to transform those minutes and hours into life lived for and with my Savior—I have the opportunity to see God at work, enjoy his presence, wonder at his creation, appreciate the expressions of his beauty and love, and touch the minds and hearts of [others] with his reality.” (Sally Clarkson)

Worth Repeating

I see all those voices out there promoting their insight, their experience, their knowledge in living color, chalking up another successful day in pictures. All this confidence and glitter, and the older I get, the more I realize that I have nothing to add to this sea of information and achievement. As the Wise Preacher once said, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9) But maybe it is too easy to grow silent under the babel of the big wide world, assume that only the newest and brightest has the right to be heard.

Someone reminded me this week that Truth doesn’t get old, does not lose its value just because it has already been said a million times. The more true it is, the more it bears repeating, and in its consistent Light we are changed into better people: more effective parents, more loyal spouses, better friends, wiser decision-makers, harder workers. Not because we are listening to the right research or the most important influencers, but because the source of that age-old Truth is above all the clamor, stands apart as the Source of life itself. The old prophet is worth quoting: “All people 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 the Lord endures forever.” (1 Peter 1:24-25)

Don’t we think the Maker should get the first word on what makes us beautiful or what makes our lives worth something? I can read all the resources out there from everyone who knows what they are doing, and learn much from them, but I find that there is only one place to turn when it comes to life-change. And that is what I need, most of all. I need more patience and more kindness for others. I need to be able to forgive and to heal from the hurts of this life. I need humility, and generosity, and hope, and a thousand other character qualities that have nothing to do with information and everything to do with transformation from the inside-out. Like the Church-Planter says, “I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—His good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:1-2) It’s not about getting the right life according to the experts. It’s about getting the right heart that knows what real life is: an everlasting life following the One Who matters most.

So maybe you don’t have to be an expert or an influencer to have something worthwhile to say. You just have to know the Truth and be humble enough, brave enough, to keep saying it. In every way you can, to whomever has ears to hear, over and over on repeat. Let God’s wisdom prove its own influence on every situation.

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It’s not that we need a new truth or a different truth or different hacks. We need the same truths over and over in whatever the new circumstance is that God has given us.

Laura Jensen

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For the Lord gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding. He holds success in store for the upright, He is a shield to those whose walk is blameless, for He guards the course of the just and protects the way of His faithful ones.

Proverbs 2:6-8

The Secret to Belonging

We could get quite well-distracted right there in the beginning of Ephesians, about what it means to be chosen and just how does that work anyway, because don’t we all want to be accepted and valued? We still remember that time-standing-still waiting, while the team captains picked for dodgeball. We are a long way from our beginnings, but sometimes on the inside we are still just five-year-old girls on the playground, with the fierce need to belong. So we read gladly what Paul says here, that “…He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us for adoption…” (Ephesians 1:4-5) Being chosen, seen as special and loved, knowing that we are wanted and admired– these are building blocks of a girl’s identity. 

And it is way too easy to keep following along those lines of human thinking, because we know how this works: when one is chosen, someone else is left out, and feelings are hurt, hopes crushed. So who is part of the in-crowd and who doesn’t belong, in Paul’s scenario? We’ve spent years learning to navigate the precarious social structure of the school-yard, to find a niche where we belong, and why would this group of Christ-following people be any different? Our own fear of being left out and our bent toward control could grab onto these first verses and wrestle with them endlessly.

But the point Paul is making is not about who was chosen, or who was not (so that we would scurry around trying to make sure we were on the inside rather than the left-outside). Nor is Paul’s point about when we were chosen (so we could figure out how much of a say we have in the matter). His point is so much more simple and so very much larger than any of that…the kind of realization that hitches your breath and fills your heart up. He is just pointing out the fact that we are chosen, that God loves us and wants us to be His own, and that means everything.

See the Jews were from the beginning God’s special people. Before any of them were born, He told Abraham that they were coming– that they would be special because He had chosen to bless them, that they would be His own in front of all the other nations on the planet, and that they would know Him personally. Every Jew came into this world knowing he was already one of the in-crowd: accepted and loved and singled out for honor in the eyes of the only One who really mattered. The most anyone else could hope for was to hang around at the edge of the crowd and catching some of the reflected glory, if you didn’t mind being a tag-along. (Everyone knows that scenario…it’s Playground Politics 101.)

And now Paul is telling some long-held heavenly secret to Gentiles, shouting out loud for anyone who has ears to hear, that they also”…were chosen to be God’s people, because from the very beginning God had decided this in keeping with His plan. And He is the One who makes everything agree with what He decides and wants.” (Ephesians 1:11) Everything that was created, all the people on earth who respond in faith, joined together in Christ as if the old labels didn’t even matter. We too were chosen to be blessed before we were born, brought up front to wear His name in front of everyone, able to know Him as a loving Father. We too get to belong in the center of God’s undivided attention. Best of all, it is what God had intended all along!

For us modern girls it’s easy to shrug off maybe, but to the believers along the coast of Asia Minor it was the essence of the Good News and a social/spiritual revolution: in Christ, anyone can belong to God. Because of Him all the social barriers marking who was on the inside and who was on the outside came falling down. All the names that told who was worth something and who was not, did not matter any more. Anyone who believes in Jesus has access to God’s rich blessings of grace. Paul assures us that his big news is true: “This was what God wanted, and he planned to do it through Christ….when the right time came, that all things in heaven and on earth would be joined together in Christ as the head.” (Ephesians 1:9-10)

Today the mystery of glorious grace is no less amazing (if we have ears to hear it and don’t get sidetracked into playground squabbles over who came first and who is in charge). We are loved. We are chosen to be the recipients of God’s blessings, a further evidence of His grace, because of what Jesus accomplished on the cross. All we do is come to Him in faith. This is the basis of our identity and value in this world. Paul sings it out: “That is why since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all God’s people, I have not stopped giving thanks to God for you.” (Ephesians 1:15)

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Beneath the cross of Jesus Christ,
No shadow remains for shame to hide;
Redemption shone for all to see,
Perfection bore our penalty,
With a grace so glorious.
Immortal day the veil was torn,
When mercy donned a crown of thorns,
As law gave way to liberty
And freedom for humanity,
With a grace so glorious.
Oh, the glory of the Savior’s love
Surrounding our surrender,
To know forever
We are welcomed home!

Grace So Glorious, Elevation Worship


“For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’” (Romans 10:12-13)

Unshakeable

When the voice of the Accuser echoes in your head, the only way to stand under the onslaught is to plant your feet on the Scriptures and take shelter under the truth of what God said thousands of years ago: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; You are Mine.” (Isaiah 43:1)

There is a Love that has no limit, drawn in the black and white lines of the written Word, painted in graphic strokes at the Cross.  “Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet My unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor My covenant of peace be removed,” says the LORD, who has compassion on you.” (Isaiah 54:10)

This is reality that does not change, firm ground on which to build a life, no matter how much your feet falter. This is how Paul could say with such unshakeable certainty, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (2 Timothy 4:7) 

No fiery darts of the Enemy can harm me when I am resting under the shadow of the Almighty One. “Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died–more than that, who was raised to life–is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.” (Romans 8:34) Overcoming is nothing more than keeping on till the end, persevering one day at a time until suddenly the race is over. I don’t have to be big and brave, or strong and amazing. Only be His and not get discouraged under the weight of this world.

Some days your heart just needs to cling to the Cross, and gaze at the Savior who loves you more than life, count your soul safe and whole in Him, regardless of how the battle rages all around.

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I have this hope
As an anchor for my soul:
Through every storm
I will hold to You.

With endless love
All my fear is swept away;
In everything,
I will trust in You.

There is hope in the promise of the cross:
You gave everything to save the world You love,
And this hope is an anchor for my soul.
Our God will stand
Unshakeable...

Anchor, Hillsong Worship

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And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before Him He endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

Hebrews 12:2-3

Making All Things New

He was an unpromising hero, keeping his head low to avoid unwanted attention and trying to be safe, even while on the inside he re-told the old stories of legacy and glory, miracles and powerful deliverance. He had no intention of stepping out of the familiar, even though the everyday was almost unendurable and fear was in the very air he breathed. Until one day God showed up on his doorstep (or more accurately in his field) and called him “mighty warrior,” as if he were not just a young farmer trying to feed his family. And Gideon scoffed, but there was this thrill of adrenaline and hope, this seed of change that might sprout into something bigger.

See, God knew Gideon better than he knew himself– the way he was wired, what he admired and longed for, what held him back. God knew Gideon because He had put him together. More than that, God knew how Gideon’s particular personality strengths and weaknesses interacted with his environment and shaped his perspectives, knew the exact circumstances it would take to spark change, move him along in his growing process. The Musician-King sang of God’s personal involvement in our shaping, His intimate knowing of who we are and who we are becoming: “My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” (Psalm 139:15-16) 

In these days after Easter, with each branch sending out new green and flowers springing up in corners everywhere, it seems like anything is possible, a thrill of change in the air that might take us from where we are into something bigger and better. The women I know are cleaning out basement storage totes and upstairs closets, opening windows to air out bedrooms, and sweeping off porches, gathering up the accumulated debris in the yards from the Winter storms. And who knows where we could go from here as the world comes back to life? But the visible clutter is the easy part; on the inside we may be stumbling over piles of debris we think no one can see but us. And The Living One Who Sees Me (Genesis 16:14) knows just what it will take to get rid of the stuff that gets in our way: our reason, our self-sufficiency, our achievements, our to-do lists…..and our self-doubt, our past failures– all the ways we measure ourselves in this world and fall short.

God knows how we are made, what we long for, and who He intends for us to be. God shows up on our doorsteps and calls us by the name He gives us– no matter how crazy it may sound or how unlikely it may appear, as of yet. So Gideon the farmer is called Mighty Warrior, stumbles out of a winepress-turned-threshing-floor, and becomes the leader of a miraculous army that can set his people free, because God goes with him. Turns out that having no visible qualifications is just the material God is looking for, to accomplish the impossible.

I know a little boy who loves crawly things with a surprising amount of focus and passion (and entirely undeserved, considering the objects of his affection). One poor creature has made a cocoon despite its less-than-comfortable accommodations. It is in a countdown to transformation, the improbable cocoon a testament to the miracle of rebirth…and the Little One eagerly waits to see what will emerge from the tomb-wrappings. He has more faith than many of us older, who tend to forget that New Life is more than just a season of the year.

Maybe we have grown used to the baggage cluttering up our insides, learned to live crippled because we don’t know how to clean it all out…or maybe we are just afraid of the change and what might come next. Like Gideon, it seems better to keep your head down and stick with what you know (no matter how it presses and chafes) than listen for Someone calling you to a new name that makes no sense and means stepping out into the unknown. The older you get, the more transformation can feel impossible.

But this is the other side of Easter Sunday, and the angels are reminding us “…the child to be born will be called holy— the Son of God. For with God nothing shall be impossible.” (Luke 1:35, 37), and “He is not here, for He has risen, as He said. Come, see the place where He lay.” (Matthew 28:6) No one is too old, too broken, too jaded for a resurrection. And a little boy waits beside a cocoon for a new creature to emerge, and the Holy Spirit keeps on blowing this wind of change, calling us to throw open the windows and let Him make us new.

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…we don’t evaluate people by what they have or how they look. We looked at the Messiah that way once and got it all wrong, as you know. We certainly don’t look at Him that way anymore. Now we look inside, and what we see is that anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new. The old life is gone; a new life burgeons! Look at it!

2 Corinthians 5:16-17, The Message

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My future hangs on this
You make preciousness from dust
Please don’t stop creating me….
Oh Your cross, it changes everything
There my world begins again with You
Oh Your cross, it’s where my hope restarts
A second chance is Heaven’s heart

Second Chances, Rend Collective

A Building Permit

Originally published August 2013.

It’s hard to explain when they ask how I can let my daughter go away: that I’ve been doing that since I sent her off to school and it’s not getting any easier through the years… that some things become inevitable after awhile… that the consequences of choices play out gradually, and it gets hard to pinpoint where the actual milestones of decision stand in the long line of days. And when I think hard, I’m not sure I would choose differently, even if I could roll all the days up and start again. At the time it was the right thing to do, so would I really go back and change a lifetime of days, just because I am struggling with their logical outcome?

Maybe that’s why Jesus asked His followers to count the cost of what they were building: “For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it?” (Luke 14:28) Be sure this is the path you want to take, because it will lead you places you cannot yet see, and if you are serious about following Him you need to be serious about seeing it through to the end. Investing in eternity, by definition, requires the spending of this world– this life– for something beyond (although I think most of us cling to the hope that we can have both if we spend carefully).

But then I read again what Jesus was saying about cost, and I know He was already looking ahead to His own wholehearted outpouring, knowing exactly where every step on that path would take Him, ready to give up everything for the sake of His Father’s plan. Maybe our short-sightedness works for our good sometimes, because if we could see all our days ahead, I wonder if we would have the courage to live them. Yet He asks us to look, to consider where we are going and how we will invest our lives, to build our days on those decisions, those values. “…Everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock.” (Matthew 7:24) This is how Jesus defines success: a life built on the bedrock of God’s truth, one decision after another, until it stands a tower-monument to God’s glory.

This has been on my mind for some months now, how if we are to live with integrity in the present, we must remain faithful to the right decisions we made in the past. When we teach our children to submit to God and trust His plans for them…tell them He is good, and His loving-kindness reaches to the heavens…model giving our lives away for the sake of the Kingdom…then it’s too late to dig in our heels and protest when they begin building on that foundation a tower that looks different than we thought it would. And if we cannot accept the results of our teaching– the practical outworking in our own lives and theirs– because it is uncomfortable or unpleasant, then what does it say about how truly we believe it? Did we imagine any of us could build for eternity without cost or effort?

Like Jesus said, “…Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow Me.” (Matthew 16:24) Would we really want our children to do anything less?

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And I will follow,
My heart surrendered;
My Jesus, I am Yours.
And I will follow,
My life in your hands;
My Jesus, I am Yours.

I Surrender All, Elevation Worship

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I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.

Romans 8:18

Measuring Hearts and Camels and Other Impossible Things

Commitment is costly–don’t let anyone tell you different. Saying yes to one thing means shutting the door to something else. Going one direction means turning your back on another possibility. Focus on something you desire, make it your priority, and you’ve already assigned lesser value to a myriad of other good things in life. And that is perfectly all right, because we were given free will in the Beginning, and told to use it well and wisely in order to have the best life. But somewhere along the line we picked up the notion that we should be able to have everything we reach for, without strings or consequences. Maybe it has to do with our losing sight of what choosing the best life looked like. Or maybe it’s this delusion we seem to have in general about limits: like I can always squeeze in one more appointment on my calendar, talk to one more person, work all day and make my house/kids/face/dinner photo-op perfect, and still have fun me-time with friends. It’s just a click away. And everyone else is doing it, so it must be possible, right? Being more-than-enough is pretty much expected, these days.

But it is costly, oh yes. No one talks about the toll it takes on heart and mind and sleep and self-image. A wise woman once said that “perfectionism is slow death by self” (Ann VosKamp), and I would be the first to raise my hand and attest to the impossible weight of trying to be good enough, to get everything right enough, in order to have the life I thought I needed. The hard truth is that I will never be enough– that I am indeed limited by the hours in a day, by the physical needs to eat and sleep and play, by the particular frailty of the way I am wired, by the circumstances of the life I have been given. And Jesus’ gracious invitation offers healing and freedom to every heart looking for a better life: “Come to Me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you. Let Me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30) I could trust an invitation like that…let go of all my striving in order to find rest. Leave behind this busted-up heart for an easier way. It would be so worth it. The Musician-King wrote it in one of his songs, that “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed.” (Psalm 34:18) When we are ready to give up, at the end of what we can do, then we are finally in the right place to find Him near and big enough for every need.

And that would be me at the end of my rope, because grace costs too, for all it is freely given. It means stripping off pride, feeling the shame of your humanity in all its not-enoughness. It costs in tears and broken dreams of what you thought your life would look like, shattered ideas of who you are, burst illusions of control… but if it was all a house of cards anyway, what do you really have to lose? And Jesus keeps talking about the impossibility of camels going through the eye of a needle, and aren’t we all just as silly, trying to get what we long for by our own efforts? Grace says the best life is a gift, because Jesus was willing to pay for it entirely– an impossibly crazy plan to rescue our run-ragged hearts. “God saved you by His grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.(Ephesians 2:8-9) I could trust a sacrificial love like that…banish fear and run into the arms that accept me completely. It’s more than okay to mourn your own need, to turn in a new direction and leave the past behind when it means finding what you’ve been looking for all along. All you have to do is say yes to Someone who loves you enough to move heaven and earth to rescue you. Terrifying? Absolutely, but so worth it.

The Church-planter Paul tells us over and over again that this is what we were made for, the wisest choice. Because when we choose Jesus, He is everything we could have hoped for in life, and all His plans are for our best life: “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.(Ephesians 2:10) On this side of surrender, it doesn’t seem like that big of a leap after all. It has been so worth it.

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This is love
Bending skies to heal the broken
This is love
Bleeding life into the grave
Hear the sound
As our hearts cry out forever
Singing hallelujah
Breathing in a brand new world

Empires, Hillsong Umited

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…may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.

Ephesians 3:18-20

Courage to do the Hard Things

We are all looking for a change, here at the start of a new year, and only in a good way. More peace, better health, less grief, calmer waters to navigate. I keep thinking about that One Word to adopt for the year, and how I would like it to be an easy word, just for once this time. And I know we all feel the same way, that life has been too complicated lately, too much to handle, and we could use a break– and who hasn’t felt the deceptive longing for “back to normal” (as if we didn’t used to feel stressed about life at all?). But let’s face it, if we are looking for growth, and becoming our best people, easy doesn’t look that good on us.

I look back over the past twelve months, and see the difficult paths we have walked, and how we have found God there, and unexpected grace leaking out of every weak and broken place. I wonder if I would trade any of it, given the chance. There have been holy treasures hidden along the way, and the beauty of shared burdens. We are not the same people we were a year ago, thanks to these hard things, and that’s not all bad.

I used to tell my kids “just because something is hard, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it,” and “anything worth doing, is worth doing well.” Because I wanted them to know that the longer, harder way is usually the best way. Better results in life, and better for our inner life of heart and spirit and mind. We were created to do the hard and wonderful things: to steward this created world for God’s glory, to walk with Him and worship Him with our whole selves, to image His beautiful nature. A high calling. A weighty responsibility. The biggest challenge is not getting distracted by shiny things that look more fun, or listening to the whispers that you deserve a break, just a little more me time.

The writer of Hebrews could have been standing here with us looking out at the year ahead, when he encouraged his readers: “So take a new grip with your tired hands and strengthen your weak knees. Mark out a straight path for your feet so that those who are weak and lame will not fall but become strong.” (Hebrews 12:12-13). It’s solid wisdom for anyone: Pause and regroup, take a fresh hold on your life, and make a sensible plan for moving forward so that you will grow strong and not stumble. And he knew we needed that reminder that God is for us, acting with love and purpose– that what He does is “always good for us, so that we might share in His holiness.” (12:10)

There is nothing that can happen in the coming year that can overwhelm me or destroy me, if He is working good for me– so why would I fear? Just take the next step, into the unknown, and know that He will walk there too. And I can hear the promise that the Prophet Isaiah recorded for his people, still ringing true: “When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you. For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior...” (Isaiah 43:2-3)

I am here, Lord, at the beginning of a new year, and you have my full attention. Everything may change this year, for all we know, but we know You will not. You are “the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17). And You will be right there in the middle, whenever we look for You, just as You were this past year. No matter what we face, You will shine brighter. In every clamor of voices, You will speak more clearly. Regardless of how steep the path or how deep the valley, Your hand will uphold us. Only let us fix our eyes on You and run joyfully.

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Your love surrounds me
When my thoughts wage war;
When night screams terror
There Your voice will roar.
Come death or shadow,
God, I know Your light will meet me there.
When fear comes knocking,
There You’ll be my guard;
When day breeds trouble,
There You’ll hold my heart.
Come storm or battle,
God, I know Your peace will meet me there,
Again and again.

Prince of Peace, Hillsong United

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…let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus….For the joy set before Him He endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

Hebrews 12:1-3

The Light Has Come

Seven hundred years before Christmas, the Prophet Isaiah wrote, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.” (Isaiah 9:2) And our hearts leap at his words, because we know that darkness– have lived and worked here all our days, pushing back against it to build a life here for the people we love. Some days we feel like we are actually gaining ground in making the world a better place. And we string up the lights at Christmas, and make as much joy as we can for one another in the strength of that hope, and wouldn’t it be wonderful if there really were an ending to the long night, a light as certain and overwhelming as the dawn? And right here in the bright bustle of the holiday season, all our dreams and fears intersect. We are decking our halls and making merry with gift-giving, but our hearts long to hear the old familiar tale of a baby in a manger and shepherds under the stars. Remember, it whispers, a light has dawned.

So we light our small candles in the dark tonight, and remind ourselves of the true message of Christmas: that we are not alone in the dark. We have a Savior and He has come to us, and a new age has dawned. Isaiah knew the names we would call Him, long before He was born: “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6) But his mother called Him Jesus, “because he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21) We could never have guessed it would happen this way, this mystery of God’s grace that lights our darkness. As one contemporary writer puts it: “Our God who breathes stars in the dark– He breathes Bethlehem’s star, then takes on lungs and breathes in stable air. We are saved from hopelessness, because God came with infant fists and opened wide His hand to take the iron-sharp edge of our sins.” (Ann VosKamp)

Isaiah exults in the dawning glory of God over a land struggling in chaos and injustice. “For unto us a Child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on His shoulders.” (Isaiah 9:6) And we rejoice in this at Christmas, because we have seen Jesus, and the way He lived and died for us here. His friend John wrote, “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:4-5) This is the best gift, this promise of a happy ending, and life that does not end with the here and now. The Light of the World is here with us, and the darkness cannot extinguish it, no matter how grim the world may seem, at times. If Light was dawning on the world on that first Christmas when Jesus came, it will blaze like lightning when He finally comes to set everything right.

So tonight we hold our candles in expectation and we sing, looking forward to the day when His radiant dawning light wipes out all the darkness everywhere, forever. This is the hope of Advent, whispering in our hearts: He has come for us; He is coming again for us. And the angels sing it back to us in the Christmas sky, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom His favor rests.” (Luke 2:14)

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A child has been given,
The King of our freedom;
Sing for the light has come!
This is Christmas.
Come and adore Him,
And bring gifts before Him;
Joy to the world,
Worship the Son!
This is Christmas.

We Have A Savior, Hillsong

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And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and He will dwell with them. They will be His people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then He said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

Revelation 21:3-5