Saturday, December 20, 2014

O Come Let Us Adore Him

The candles wait to be lit.
An Advent wreath sits on display in our living room all year long. I bought the candles 25 years ago this Christmas, and they’re still in use.
More often than not, it’s the middle of this season when I remember that it’s time. Time to make time, together, to read a few verses, sometimes sing a song. To light a candle and see it shine.
Venite, venite. That’s Latin for “O come ye.” No, I never studied Latin, but I sang choir in middle school, and our teacher – my mom – taught us things like that. We’d sing “venite adoremus”  and then interpret it, singing “O come let us adore Him.” The translation would be veni, veni for the song our family sometimes sings for Advent: O Come, O Come, Emmanuel. Translated from Hebrew, Emmanuel is “God with us.”
Veniveni Emmanuel.
If you’ve invited God into your life … do you trust Him to actually show up?
Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me. Revelation 3:20
Once He does, will He be welcome to move in? Each time a family friend or relative has come to stay at our house, there’s been only so much room that we found for their things, as we edged around our own clutter. Our interests furnish and yet disorder our lives, and our concerns add to the disarray.
Even if you deem the items and affairs of your life as attractively organized – when Jesus comes knocking, ready to redeem your life, you might still have to consider whether you’ve really made any room for him to even get inn.
His taste might not match your signature style. He might want to redecorate.
What if there were parts of your life that He was ready to tear down, to renovate and build something stronger, and more beautiful? What if – instead of remaining a creature of habit — you were to be rebuilt to His code and to his taste?
Yeah, that’s a lot. But then again, at some point you’d have to ask … whose house is it?
Venite, venite. O come, let us adore Him.
God will show up. And He will edify you. He builds on a grand scale in the life of each believer, replacing a spirit of fear with a spirit of power, love and of a sound mind. The one whom God loves is set free from condemnation by a true Judge, and defended by the Almighty. Is cared for faithfully and prospered by the presence of the God who delights in His people. Is guided by God’s omnipresent wisdom.
As we come to know God, we come to know Him as the God who is with us. Exult in knowing Him.
My soul shall make her boast in the LORD: the humble shall hear thereof, and be glad.  Psalm 34:2
And exalt time spent with Him.
Glory ye in his holy name: let the heart of them rejoice that seek the LORD.  1 Chronicles 16:10  (See also Jeremiah 9:24, 1 Chronicles 16:35; Psalm 105:3; 1 Corinthians 1:31; and 2 Corinthians 10:17.)
Rejoice at His advent in your circumstances, and the epiphany of His place in your life and the lives of those you love.
Light the candles.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

The Power of Praise

Real Talk Ministries tweeted today: "God’s people will worship Him regardless of what their circumstances are." To ready our minds to understand and celebrate that, we need to review that “regardless.”
We do regard our circumstances, and we were made to be alert and observe what goes on around us. 1 Peter 5:8 advises: Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.
People throughout Scripture called out for justice, just as people heeding current events of today. Right after God's word explains how we suit up for spiritual battle, which we usually think of as our own personal trials, Ephesians 6:18 reminds us: And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.
And yes, people throughout Scripture called out in their personal pain, just as people facing struggles do today.
People of God are not called to denial. We are called to acknowledge our circumstances, and then to seek God’s response, already in awe. We pray expectantly, expecting God to act.
When we say God’s ways are above our ways, we’re not shrugging our shoulders in resignation. We’re keeping an eye out to see God to act on a grand scale.
We stay on the lookout, because we know that God’s grand-scale moves are not always obvious to those who aren’t looking for Him in a situation. Jesus -- God’s grandest move yet, from the perspective of humanity -- showed up in a stable, spent a few years on the run with his family, and altogether about 30 years in obscurity.
And the wait for this Messiah stretched beyond any one person’s lifetime. Yet still the faith of some allowed them to wait.
When we regard our circumstances, they can be our distraction, or serve as the education of our faith.
God’s people, once we truly come to know Him, will worship Him because of circumstances. Either we will praise Him for abundance of comfort, or the abundance of His comforting. Either way, we eventually realize we are so greatly blessed in every circumstance.
Romans 12:12 calls us:
Be joyful in hope,
patient in affliction,
and faithful in prayer.
And how do we do that – ensure that our hopes are not wistful, our afflictions are not fretful, and our prayers are not doubtful?
Praise Him,
Praise Him,
Praise Him.
Try it.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

A 23rd Psalm Attitude

My dog Al came looking for me. I was the only one upstairs, and he’s like a sheep herder’s dog, checking up on the flock.
Nah. He’s more like a sheep himself. After gazing into my face, he leaped into my lap and curled up there.
He’s a good sheep – for a miniature schnauzer.
I wanna be like Al.
My dog leaps into my lap because he knows he has a place there. He leans his head back all the way, just to gaze with adoration at my face. I want a 23rd Psalm attitude like my dog Al.
Whatever we’re eating, he wants some. He’s there, as close to the stove, table or dish that we’ll allow. Yes, his dog dish is full, but he’s still eager, for the crumbs we’ll surely drop. After we’re done, he’s allowed to leap up again, where he’s eager to even to sniff the fragrance of what we had.
He knows that staying close means sharing even more in what we’re enjoying.
The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want.
Freedom from fear — the fear of going without — is the idea that opens this psalm. The rest details tender tending for a sheep. Al, who’s carried, petted, entertained at length by the members of his household, would relate.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
In this psalm and elsewhere in the Word, we get the heads-up that we will face tribulations, and we are glad to get the Word that we will know victory. But that victory is more than the relief we experience when our tribulations are over. It’s so much more, because God also provides us the rest, comfort and peace we need before, during and after those tribulations. He tends us tenderly with healing for our souls – our minds and emotions – and strengthens and soothes our bodies.
In the midst of all this providence we find in the next verse the reason for great trust: our undivided awe for God, who is omnipotent within us and around us.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
God acknowledges and addresses what we face. Enemies stand against us; and we are given time to receive and be strengthened by whatever we need in that day – our daily bread. Disease and injury threaten; and we are fortified, soothed and healed.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.
Because God is everpresent and eternally faithful, our faith endures. And we always have a place to turn to, a place with Him.
Surely Al knows he has a place to go – a place of goodness, lovingkindness. He has a place to abide, and an abiding trust.
He’s so eager to draw closer. He’s leaping at the opportunity.
Let’s take a leap of faith today.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

The Point of Yielding

There’s a yield sign, at the point where I’m ready to take the ramp to the highway and get to work. 

It’s not yet rush hour for most, so I rationalize that I can rush on ahead. I’ve got work to do, and the sooner the better. Or so it seems.

Sometimes after I’ve passed that sign, I’ll see a car approaching from the other direction. We each had time to enter the ramp safely, and so all is well. Or so it seems.

But when I stop to consider the purpose of the yield sign, I stop calculating my speed as due diligence, and my timing as precision.

The driver’s ed class I took in high school never said: Prepare to stop at the yield sign unless you have somewhere important to go.

My driver’s ed manual never had a page that read: Prepare to stop at the yield sign unless you can speed up to get by.

And the grace I’ve known in all my travels was never based on my plans or my handling at the wheel. The grace I know is God within and without, and too often I don’t prepare to stop at all to hear from Him. 

I’m eager to do the work He’s given me, but I’ve often let that work take my focus from Him – when it’s His guidance and empowerment that I need to depend on, moment by moment. I care about other people, but I’ve often rushed past someone He sent my way – when it’s His encouragement and love that both of us just missed out on sharing.

I have an opportunity to yield throughout the day, to stop for yet another moment. 

Just to interrupt what I’m doing, what I’m saying, even what I’m thinking long enough for God to get a Word in. To apply His ways to the situation at hand.

There’s a yield sign, at every point.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Compassion: Let it flow

In the contemporary Christian worship song Mighty to Save, there is a line: “Everyone 
needs compassion.”
This is true.
I need compassion. You need compassion. And not just the way we usually mean it.
It’s not just that we need to receive compassion, but we need to release compassion.
It is a need – not just an item on a to-do list, in our amateurish quests for self-improvement.
But an actual, hardwired need, because we were designed for that. We were designed to overflow with
everything that God is, most specifically His grace.
It’s His grace that we call out for, when we don’t know what else to say or do.
It’s His grace that we call out for, when we don’t know what else to call out for.
We call out in pain, or loneliness, or weariness, or fear – any number of things.
These are moments of necessity. It’s these times, when we're pushed beyond our own rediscovered
limits, that our human ability to recognize that ‘this is where I stop, and this is where God begins’ is really
But, just as important, are the moments in which we release compassion for someone else.
These are moments when compassion is like a dammed-up river, that now can flow through you. And all
that was dry and dusty and littered gets washed. Renewed. Restored.
And prepared. Because you are prepared for the next time someone does show compassion to you. 
You are prepared for the next time God is speaking one-on-one to you, and you recognize God’s 
mercy in your  life, flowing through your circumstances and your very existence. The riverbed has now 
been prepared.
The way has been made.
So let’s release compassion, not because we ought to, or we should.
But because we simply have to.
We simply have to.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

When God Answers

We pray.

We may pray about what we want – for what we dream of receiving. We may pray about what we need – for relief from stress, pain or threat. We may pray for ourselves, or someone that we love.

We do not pray to persuade God to act. Instead, prayer is our act – our act of faith. When we pray, we embrace our belief that God can and will help. That God has excellent and abundant things stored up for us. We reach out in readiness to receive those blessings. And we honor God, because our eager anticipation of His best expresses and reinforces our trust in His faithfulness.

It is God’s will to hear His people’s prayers of faith. It is His will to answer.  And when God answers our prayers, it is cause for great joy.

If you have prayed those prayers at length – maybe even for years – your joy is even greater when God answers. If you have prayed those prayers for years for someone you love … when God answers, only the scale of heaven itself can be used to measure your joy.

            God has revealed to us in 2 Corinthians 1:3-11 that He has a great purpose for His people to seek and share encouragement with each other.  I am excited to realize that when I share my hopes, and ask someone to pray to God about them, I am inspiring someone else to exercise faith.  I am excited that when we join to pray in His name, we are magnifying Him.

My needs and wants now become part of my ministry to other believers. And their needs and wants can minister to me. If a nonbeliever witnesses our fellowship, our ministry has also become a mission.  All in all, it is a wondrous invitation to faith – an opportunity to advance God’s kingdom here on earth.

I marvel at the power of God’s plan for the interaction of those who love Him. I am gladdened to realize this great blessing of sustaining and strengthening one another. Even more, more and more, I begin to see the outline of the body of Christ as we learn to fully fellowship. How glorious it is to see our God.

            When God answers our prayers, we see Him more and more.

When he says “wait,” we see that He is a God who nurtures us as we wait. As we pray, God responds with encouragement in His word, in the fellowship of believers, in His presence felt in ways beyond number. We learn to trust Him, thanking Him right here and right now. We learn that blessings not yet perceived can still be blessings received – received in our spirits.

            When He says “no,” we see that He is a God who comforts us in our disappointments and our grief. We learn to trust that God’s viewpoint and ways are above ours. We see that He is a God who inspires us, when we don’t know what to do next. We see that He is a God who restores us, when we call out as the anguished father in Mark 9:24 did, saying: Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief. And God does.

            When He says “yes,” we see that He is a God whose delight is our delight. We see that He is a God who rejoices over us with singing, and invites us to join in the song. We are reminded of His amazing abundance.

When we pray over our wants and our needs, we begin to see that God is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow, whatever He answers. And we begin to realize the joy in all of God’s answers. As we come to see God, we see that that joy is part of His very nature.

When we pray, this joy of the Lord has a cleansing effect. It may wash like a trickle, in a moment that revives and refreshes you, interrupting your day-to-day routine. It may wash like a wave, in an event that quickens your heartbeat and compellingly sways your soul away from the routine. It may wash like a flood, in an occasion that saturates and transforms you, and transforms your routine into worship. However it washes, His joy washes like the Living Water that it is.

We find a joy in knowing God as Father, who communicates His love for us in daily blessings. We find a joy in knowing Jesus as Savior, who made himself a living example for our  earthly journey and a sacrifice for our eternal life. We find a joy in knowing the Holy Spirit as our counsel and comfort, leading us lovingly every step of the way in life.

When God answers, we find a joy.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Blessings in Broken Clay

Mary’s hand was shattered.

     When our teenagers were playing in the living room, one tripped, and in a minute there was a broken certificate frame, and fewer ceramic figures in our year-round Nativity display.

     We told them we were glad they weren’t hurt, and to get busy sweeping up. I didn’t really have a close connection with the little figurine.

     But I thought of all that I’ve learned from what she represented.
Although the real Mary kept a small profile, in humble circumstances, her example lives large even now.


     She listened to what God had to say. Instead of focusing on how this pregnancy would threaten her status, her security, and life itself, Mary allowed her mind to contemplate and experience the awe of all that God would do. When she focused on His words and His actions, the joy of their meaning shone out in her words. We may not know what her emotions were, but we can see the joy that strengthened them.

     Even before the Holy Spirit enabled her body to conceive God’s Son, it filled her spirit with the hope that God’s message provided. It was a hope so far beyond her, because it was a hope for all her people, and all the nations of the world. It was a hope for all time.


     She allowed that joy and hope to form her response to God. Just as her body would be prepared to carry out the work it had been given, to carry and deliver the divine and human Son of God, her spirit was ready as well. When Mary received a message from God, her response was to magnify the Lord. The word in Scripture translated to magnify is in the present tense, indicating an ongoing state of magnifying the Lord.

     God may seem small until we contemplate and describe Him, which causes us to see how vast His power and goodness really are. To magnify the Lord is to describe His magnificence. Words help our minds to express things greater than we are. When we begin to say ‘how great Thou art,’ we begin to realize it -- on a God-sized scale.
Mary understood the kingship of God. When she magnified God, she made it clear that whatever He commanded, she must do.

     She also understood that He was moving history toward something that was allgood – not pretty good, but purely good.  She understood that God had a plan for justice, and He works His plan through works of giving and healing rather than dominating.

     And because God’s plan for justice often occurs over time, those like Mary who have this awe for God pass it down from generation to generation.

     Mary in particular also understood that God, rather than being harsh, had blessed her beyond all women. For her, His command is love, and always for the good of His servant and the world.


     She went to spend several months with her cousin Elizabeth. She knew Elizabeth had experienced her own miraculous conception, after years of barrenness. There, they could both wonder at the lives forming within, and the lives they were living. She knew Elizabeth understood what it was to be touched by God. She knew Elizabeth could rejoice with her. And when Mary arrived, even Elizabeth’s unborn child leapt for joy, as testament to Who was to come.

     Those who love God are strengthened when they can rejoice together. Proverbs explains that iron sharpens iron, and we need others around us who likewise seek God’s righteousness. With the wisdom of God, Jesus did not send His disciples on missions alone. As God guides us on our own journeys, He also guides us to community with those who love Him and who encourage us to walk closely with Him.


     She gave loving, attentive care to the King – swaddling Him and laying Him in a manger. In these times, nurturing meant bathing, and then rubbing a newborn in salt and oil, and finally swaddling. To do otherwise represented neglect (see Ezekiel 16).

     One day Mary’s son would wash our sins and make us clean. One day like salt He would save what would otherwise perish. He also called His believers salt of the earth, because we in turn would minister to others, to bring them to Jesus.

     One day He would be known like balm in Gilead -- the one who healed as He walked and taught, and the one who was anointed for a sacrifice that would ensure abundant life and ongoing healing for a dying world. One day He would rise up from a tomb, having removed his own graveclothes, and thus unbound us all from death itself.


     She and her husband made pilgrimage to worship at Jerusalem when Jesus was a preteen. The length of a journey in those days makes it clear that worship was a priority for the young family.

     To make a pilgrimage is to set aside time to worship God. We set aside our routine, our agenda. We sacrifice time and energy to be used for His will, instead of our own. We have occasion now to invest ourselves in preparation and relocation. To reconsider our commitments. To decide what baggage is worth carrying along. To seek guidance for the journey.


     She sought out Jesus. When it was time to leave Jerusalem to go home, they eventually realized Jesus was not with their group of pilgrims, and they turned back to Jerusalem to look for him.  
     It was Mary who spoke to Jesus about the anxiety they’d faced in the search. He told her that they should have know He’d been in His father’s house. She didn’t understand that Jesus was speaking prophetically about another 3 days to come, when those who loved and followed Him would despair over his death, instead of realizing that He was heaven bound.

     When we find ourselves on a journey led by our own reasoning, efforts and agenda, we may realize we haven’t sought Jesus before departing; haven’t remained close with Him along the way; and finally that Jesus is our Way, and that we really can’t go any further without Him. 

     God’s word in Phillippians 4:6 tells us to be “anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.”


     She turned to Jesus. She called on Him when He was a young man of about 30, to help a friend with a wedding feast. They were in need of wine. With his remarks, Jesus indicates that this event is only a shadow of a time yet to come, when He would drink from a bitter cup of sacrifice. He would demonstrate that the greatest love is to lay down a life for a friend. He would make a friend of any and every sinner ready to reconcile and end enmity with God. It was a shadow of his Last Supper, when He would tell his disciples that His blood would be shed for them, and to remember His sacrifice with wine.

     It was Mary who directed others at the wedding, giving them the wisest advise: to do whatever Jesus said. 

     And they did, filling clay jars with water. Soon, where clay jars had held only water, they now held wine. It was a shadow of Jesus’ sacrificial miracle to come: After Adam, our bodies had become vessels for spirits severed from God, but now we would become vessels for God’s Holy Spirit.

     Mary was likely still there when the steward of the wedding feast praised the quality of the wine, saying the best had been saved for last. 

     When she first had celebrated the child that she was chosen to bear, she recognized even then that her son represented God’s best. First had come Adam, a man who would trade obedience for sin, giving all people a death sentence. Then came her Jesus, a man who would be obedient unto death, earning salvation for all who would receive it. God had saved the best for last.


     She listened to Jesus. Mary and her other children came to hear Jesus preach to the crowds. She was there when Jesus explained that “my mother and brothers are those who hear God’s word and put it into practice.”

     When Mary was a young girl, she opened her mind and heart upon receiving a message from God. She understood that it was meant for her personally. What she had to say in response revealed her familiarity with the Scriptures – the word of God revealed previously. And faith followed familiarity.

     How she lived was how she put the Word into practice. Early in her story, she was willing to praise and humble herself to God’s direction and purpose. Later in life, she was bold in her appeal to Jesus at the wedding, bringing to Him a concern from everyday life.

     To belong to the family of faith is to know that your life belongs to God. To know yourself as His son or daughter is to know you can come boldly before Him with your concerns.

     These things – hearing the Word, committing to it personally, making your life an offering, boldly appealing to God -- define what it means to put the Word into practice. The Word is put to use in the thoughts we focus on, the words we choose, and the actions we carry out.


     As her son died in agony on the cross, Mary allowed herself to be ministered to and comforted. Jesus spoke to her, appointing a disciple to her as a son, to care for as his own mother. She who had been daughter, betrothed bride, wife, mother and probably widow, now had a new family status determined by Jesus. 

     Jesus had already begun His work of grafting people together in faith and making them family by blood – His, rather than theirs.

Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning. Psalm 30

     As with her labor pains, the shared sorrow of this moment was yielding to something greater. Mary was experiencing a grief that would give way to worldwide joy.

     As with Bethlehem’s innkeepers, many would refuse to receive her Son. 
But love, not nails, had stretched Jesus’ arms wide – offering an eternal embrace.

     God and man had been reconciled.