JOY to the World

Joy 1

Joy to the world, the Lord has come!
Let earth receive her King
Let every heart prepare Him room
And Heaven and nature sing
And Heaven and nature sing
And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing

Christmas has come and gone…the anniversary of our Savior’s birth. Yes there is joy because the Lord has indeed come! Just as the people of Bethlehem had the decision to have room for Jesus, so do we. Preparing room in our hearts for Jesus is the most important decision in the world that we have to make. But something to consider…for those who consider themselves as Christians and have already made room in their hearts for Jesus, we still have that choice to make every day.

Once you are saved, you are saved. But once you are saved, you are on a lifelong journey of following Jesus and deepening your personal relationship with Him. Has your heart recently prepared room for Him? Is your heart open to Him all the time? Or are you distracted or too busy to allow Jesus to continually work in your heart? Preparing room happens more than just at that moment we become saved. It’s a continual process of making room for Jesus so that He remains in the center of our hearts and lives.

Joy to the World, the Savior reigns!
Let men their songs employ
While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy
Repeat the sounding joy
Repeat, repeat, the sounding joy

Fields, rocks, hills and plains sing 24/7 praises to God. Everything that God created purpose is to reflect His glory. “Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad; let the sea resound, and all that is in it. Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them; let all the trees of the forest sing for joy.” – Psalm 96: 11-12

No more let sins and sorrows grow
Nor thorns infest the ground
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found
Far as the curse is found
Far as, far as, the curse is found

Because the Savior reigns He conquers sin and death, and turns our mourning into dancing. In the Garden of Eden, thorns were not present until sin entered the world. Then God cursed the ground and the thorns came. But thorns will not always be, just as sin and death will not always be. The Savior has come, and the Savior has redeemed. The end has not happened yet, but we know the end of the story, the full redemption of earth. There is a blessing for every curse. Just as the whole earth was cursed (and rightly so because of sin) God’s blessings cover the earth.

Joy 2

 

Psalm 103 8-12 “The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.”

 

 

 

He rules the world with truth and grace
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness
And wonders of His love
And wonders of His love
And wonders, wonders, of His love

The Savior has come and was born. The Savior lived and died for you and me. The Savior rose from the grave to rule the world. But He does not rule it ruthlessly or condescendingly. He rules the world with truth, the Truth, and grace. Grace greater than you and I can show each other. Grace extravagant grace. Grace that is freshly supplied to us each moment that we need. Grace that is extended to the evilest of people in order to bring them to Himself. Jesus righteousness is placed on us when we trust in Him and that is glorious! Jesus love far surpasses anything that we can grasp or fathom. The Son of God was born in a stable, taught us about God, and died in our place so that we could be with Him for all eternity. That is wondrous love!

May your heart and home be full of joy as we close out this year and anticipate the new one to come. May we be bold enough to share this joy of Jesus that we have with our family and friends until all the world knows that the Lord has come, that our Savior reigns, that His blessings flow, that He rules with truth and grace, and that His love is incomparable to any other. There is much Joy to the World!

Comfort & Joy

shepherds

The shepherds at those tidings

Rejoiced much in mind,

And left their flocks a-feeding

In tempest, storm and wind:

And went to Bethlehem straightway

The Son of God to find.

O tidings of comfort and joy,

Comfort and joy

O tidings of comfort and joy

 

And when they came to Bethlehem

Where our dear Savior lay,

They found Him in a manger,

Where oxen feed on hay;

His Mother Mary kneeling down,

Unto the Lord did pray,

O tidings of comfort and joy,

Comfort and joy

O tidings of comfort and joy

 

Now to the Lord sing praises,

All you within this place,

And with true love and brotherhood

Each other now embrace;

This holy tide of Christmas

All other doth deface.

O tidings of comfort and joy,

Comfort and joy

O tidings of comfort and joy

The Son of God is born. The Messiah. The one whom the earth itself has groaned for since the moment Adam and Eve desired to take matters into their own hands. He is born and the first people God chooses to share His eternal life-altering news is Shepherds. Shepherds! One of the lowliest groups on the society’s totem-poll…they were estranged and not trusted. They were poor and they were dirty. They spent their lives in fields with sheep. That’s all they did. They had nothing to their name and society kept them at arms length. But God sent His messengers to appear before them, to be the first to receive the announcement of Christ’s birth.

Shepherds had empty hands, and likely, aching hearts. These were the ones who were ready to receive Christ. Because they had nothing, without a second thought they were ready to accept everything that Christ is and has to offer. Their Savior, Emmanuel, God-with-us, has come. They jumped up and ran into Bethlehem in search of the baby Jesus. Leaving their flocks, they were willing to give up their entire livelihood in order to worship the Savior. Shepherds never left their sheep because predators would attack them, or people would steel them. But here they left their sheep, completely defenseless. Loosing their flock meant nothing to them compared to meeting the long, expected King.

They obeyed the Angel’s message and followed the sign. Not that the baby was wrapped in swaddling clothes, but that that baby was laying in a feeding-troth. Because there was no crib available in the town of Bethlehem, Mary placed her first-born in a manger. But who really placed him there? God – The King of Kings – gave up His glorious throne in Heaven and descended on earth in the form of a man. God could have chosen to be born in a palace for the richest rulers of the world to see. But no, He placed himself in the place where oxen ate. A place where no mother, let alone a first-time mom, would want to place her baby. He willingly came to die, but first, He willingly came to put himself in the lowliest place a baby could go.

Jesus came for the lowly. Jesus came for the outcasts and poor. Jesus came for the regular people, like Mary and Joseph. Jesus came for you and me.

So doesn’t this cause signing praises? The news of the Gospel is the news of true love. A love that is incomparable to any other. Because God loved you and me so much, that He came down not just from Heaven to earth, but from His throne in Heaven, to the lowliest place on earth. This holy time of Christmas is truly like no other.

Jesus, Son of God, humbled himself to be born in a manger. W cannot even comprehend how far He was willing to come to tell us He loves us and wants to save us. The Shepherds were willing to leave their livelihood behind and give Jesus their empty hands and aching hearts to the One who could eternally fill them.

O tidings of comfort and joy it is indeed!

So, how far are you willing to go to follow Jesus this Christmas season?

Waited & Waiting

candles

My favorite Christmas carol is O Come, O Come, Emmanuel. During this Advent Season, we are remembering and we are waiting. Not just waiting for the day to celebrate our Savior’s birth, but truly waiting with eager anticipation and a sometimes weariness-hope for the day that our Savior will come again.

O come, O come, Emmanuel

And ransom captive Israel

That mourns in lonely exile here

Until the Son of God appear

Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel

Shall come to thee, O Israel

After thousands of years of waiting in expectation, the Savior did come. He was born to not only comfort the mourning or to ransom Israel from exile. But He was born to wipe every tear from our eye so that eternity will be without any mourning. He came to ransom Israel, but not with a king to destroy the Romans. He could have done that, yes. But He chose to do something far greater. He ransomed Israel with Himself – with God as man – to forgive them and ransom their hearts and the hearts of all generations. Emmanuel came also for you and me, to ransom us from our personal exiles. From the exile of sin that wages war within our hearts, that separates us from God. We can rejoice. Shall come ~ He has come ~ He will come again

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free

Thine own from Satan’s tyranny

From depths of Hell Thy people save

And give them victory o’er the grave

Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel

Shall come to thee, o Israel

God fulfills His promises, and the Messiah did come, through the Rod of Jesse. Christ frees us from the tyranny of Satan when we accept Jesus as ruler of our hearts and lives. More than that, His power is over Satan. Satan is continually at work to kill, steal and destroy. But his power is limited. Satan’s victories will never last, and Satan will never win – not in the end, and not eternally. In the end, God will free us from all evil, and from the power of Satan. Because of the resurrection, God already claimed victory over the grave. He was victorious, and therefore, each of us will experience similar victory over the grave. It does not keep us. Death is not the end. We are promised that we will rise again. Rejoice, rejoice. Emmanuel, God with us. He has come to Israel, and He has come to me. He draws near to me, and desires to be with me each moment of each day. How awesome is that?!

O come, Thou Day-Spring

Come and cheer

Our spirits by Thine advent here

Disperse the gloomy clouds of night

And death’s dark shadows put to flight

Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel

Shall come to thee, o Israel

My spirit is not always cheery; not even in this Advent Season. But my cheer does not have to be dependent upon me, or those around me. My cheer should come from the knowledge of Emmanuel – God with me, who has already ransomed and freed me. Just as Jesus’ voice “Peace! Be still!”(Mark 4:39) calmed the storm over the Sea of Galilee, so His voice disperses the gloomy clouds that entangle my heart and hover over my mind. Darkness and death flee at the voice of Christ because they know neither of them can win. God with us, Emmanuel, has conquered the darkest night.

O come, Thou Key of David, come

And open wide our heavenly home

Make safe the way that leads on high

And close the path to misery

Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel

Shall come to thee, o Israel

 As followers of Christ, we are strangers in a strange land. If this earth is unsettling, and we do not quite feel at rest, then that is exactly how it’s meant to be. Our hearts yearn for something more – something always peaceful – something that will last. That something is our heavenly home – our final destination where we will forever be. How marvelous! “In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?” John 14:3 Just as having victory over the grave, Christ has gone before us. It’s a narrow way, but a safe way. Safe because being in the will of God is the safest place on earth. Misery will be no more, because Jesus is preparing our forever home.

Jesus is near. Emmanuel has come. And He promises to come again and take us home. Because of these, we have a true and lasting reason to rejoice. May your heart be encouraged with the reality of the nearness of our Savior this Christmas.

Emmanuel, God with us.

Shall come ~ He has come ~ He will come again

 

The Nearness of Jesus

manger-524x404

“Be near me, Lord Jesus

I ask Thee to stay

Close by me forever

And love me, I pray

Bless all the dear children

In Thy tender care

And fit us for Heaven

To live with Thee there”

Be near. Stay close. Love me. I want to always be with you.

Children have this down pat. Not just the simple Christmas hymn, “Away In A Manger,” but the main points in the last two verses of the song. Children ache to be near those they love. Once they are there, they just want to stay. As they sit on your lap or hold your hand, they are silently asking to be loved. When they are assured of your love they do not want to leave.

As adults, and especially in America, we are instructed to be independent, and self-sufficient. We enjoy spending time with people we love, but where is that longing to stay? We are afraid of ‘overstaying our welcome’ or thinking about the next thing to be done that day. We want to be loved, but are often too proud or insecure to show those around us how much we do need to be loved.

“Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” ~ Matthew 19:14

Where did not just our dependence, but longing for God go? Are we too proud or too scared to realize the true need we have of Jesus being near? You see, the “nearer” you are to a person, the better you are able to tell them if they have spinach in their teeth. The longer some “stays close by” the greater chance there is of them seeing your internal spinach. Oh, I mean, flaws. 😉 And love? Well love is accepting all the blemishes and choosing to see the best in you. Each of these things requires risk. But this is why Jesus came as a baby in that manger.

The King of kings and Lord of lords abandoned His heavenly thrown and entered earth, in a stable for heaven’s sake, and in the form of a human baby. As a human, Jesus was able to relate to us, and be as near to the human race as He possibly could – by lowering Himself to become one of us. Yes, Jesus remained fully God, but somehow someway, he was fully human too (yet without sin).

Although Jesus has long sense returned to His rightful home, enthroned on high, He is still very near. Jesus wants to stay close because He loves us. Because He loves us, He desires that we spend eternity with Him. When Jesus was born, He was nearer to us physically speaking in the way that you could touch him, see him and audibly hear his voice. As a man, Jesus was able to relate to us and understand personally and experience deeply the joys and sorrows life gives us. He was near with the twelve as they lived life together. He laughed with friends. He reached out and touched the sick. Jesus came to earth to be near to us. But 2,000 years later, Jesus’ nearness is still here.

One of my love languages is physical touch. I concur with people who say they would love to have Jesus have skin on again. I mean, a hug from the Son of God?!? That would be the best. A friend of mine made a good point relating to the nearness of Jesus and this common desire. Some ladies mentioned how cool it will be in heaven asking people; “What was it like to walk with Jesus on earth?” I will never forget her response. Without skipping a beat she said, “They’ll ask us, what was it like having the Holy Spirit living inside of you?!?” You see, for those of us who truly believe, the Lord is always near.

The nearness and closeness of Jesus is something many Christians desire. It’s something this Christmas season I especially am longing for. We won’t receive a “hug from Jesus with skin on.” But you may recently or in the past truly sensed the presence of the Lord. It is however, important to remember that even with or without ‘sensing,’ Jesus is always near – because the Holy Spirit has been promised to us.

So, to experience the joy of Jesus presence this Christmas, here are some thoughts. I truly believe all of these are examples in how the nearness and closeness of Jesus is felt in our lives.

Do we delight in His presence? Do we take the time to be still and know that He is God? Do we pause when we pray and actively listen? Do we get absorbed reading Scriptures and sigh when we put the book down? Jesus is near to us. All we have to do is open our hearts and invite him to enter our space. Ask him to stay. Humble yourself like a child and don’t be afraid to ask to be loved.

The final verse reminds us that we are His Children, and as such God will bless us – even when those blessings come in disguise. And trusting Jesus as our Lord indeed fits us for Heaven. We can delight in the hope we have that we will be able to get that hug from Jesus, and spend Heaven in His presence.

May the nearness of Jesus fill your heart with comfort and peace this Christmas.

manger-524x404

 

Maintaining Thanksgiving

give-thanks

The holiday of Thanksgiving has passed. Our stomach’s might be still full, or at least our refrigerators still have some remains of turkey and gravy. We are about to close on this “thankful month” all together. So. Now what?

Black Friday slammed us in the face, and the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season is already upon us. Our minds have shifted from the central point of thanks, to the thoughts of what’s next on our to-do list, our shopping list, our Christmas card list. As we approach the Christmas season, I want to encourage each of us to maintain, at least try to maintain, a heart full of thanksgiving.

Last blog I mentioned sacrificial thanksgiving, the kind of thanksgiving that is uttered even in our darkest moments. But how are we able to get there, if in our everyday life, thanksgiving is not towards the front of our minds, or the echo of our hearts’ cry?

A beautiful thing about thanksgiving is it puts us in our place. My favorite musical of all time is Fiddler on the Roof. The dancing is entertaining, the music is superb, the love stories are unforgettable…but the reason why I can watch this movie over and again is because Tevye’s relationship with God fascinates me. (Heartbreakingly, he is missing the Gospel because he and his family are still awaiting the Messiah’s coming.) However, what Tevye does know about God, and how he relates to God, is truly inspiring. You see Tevye, often looking towards the sky, talks to God. I love how symbolic that is (whether it’s meant to be or not) as Tevye knew God’s place and he knew his place. He realizes how majestic God is and that God is in control, and in turn how lowly he is and obedient he must be in comparison. Yet, with seeing who God is, and in turn who he is, Tevye still has a remarkably close relationship with God. His family was poor, he never bore a son, yet he was content.

If we approach life with a proud heart and the idea that we are entitled to certain things, then the roots in our hearts will not be ones of thanksgiving. So, project. Go outside and look at the sunset. Or play with your dog. Or do something that takes your mind off of, well, you. As we step back from being in the center of our world, and look up, we realize the distance between our Maker and ourselves. A phrase that I live by almost daily is, ‘God is God, and I am not.’ But oh, how freeing that is!

The more we look to God and see Him for what He is, and in-turn look at the Scriptures to see ourselves for who we are, and then who God says we are, then what I find overflowing in my heart is thanksgiving. Because wow. Oh wow. What a huge difference between our infinite and perfect God and ME a finite and imperfect human! But the Story does not stop there – because Jesus bridged the gap between God and me so that we can have a lifelong and eternity-full relationship together.

I don’t know about you, but this truth causes my heart to be filled with thanksgiving. This Christmas season, in the midst of our celebrations and stresses, let’s remember who God is, and in turn, who we are. Let’s let this truth be the reason that we can maintain hearts of thanksgiving…even in the midst of our to-do lists, shopping lists, and Christmas cards lists.

Verses to mediate on this week:

Who God Says He Is:       

Psalm 46:1 “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”

Jonah 4:2 “O Lord…I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.”

1 Timothy 6:15-16 “[God] who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.”

1 John 1:9 “ If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Romans 8:31-39 “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,

‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Who God Says We Are:

Psalm 139:14 “I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Marvelous are Your works, and that my soul knows very well.”

Ephesians 3:10 “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

Ephesians 1:3 “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.”

Colossians 1:9-14 “And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy; giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”

1 Peter 2:9 “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”

My prayer for you is that everyday, no matter how mundane or stressful it can be, that your hear will be filled with thanksgiving – continual thanksgiving which can only come from remembering who He is, and who we are. And especially remembering how good and gracious God is to bridge the gap between the two, in order for us to have continual fellowship with our Maker!

Sacrifice of Thanksgiving

Tail of Humpback Whale

So often thankfulness is seen as an overflow of happiness. But if that were the case, where is the depth? If we only gave thanks to God during seasons of bliss, what does that make our relationship with God look like?

Looking at Scripture, and looking back on my own life, I’ve learned that thanksgiving isn’t only an attitude we are to posses when life is going well and when we can “pin the feather on the turkey” without thinking too long and hard. Thanksgiving isn’t when we have a Pollyanna approach to life, and pick and choose the good stuff to focus on. If we think it is, then I want to challenge you with the thought that genuine thankfulness of heart is so much more.

True thanksgiving, and the kind of thanksgiving that I believe gives the most praise back to God, occurs when we’ve come to the end of our rope. Or, like Jonah, am trapped in the belly of a whale. I’ve heard the story of Jonah many times, and have read this passage many times. It wasn’t until last week that the depth of thanksgiving struck me from what is here. This passage is when Jonah after saying “no” to God and running in the opposite direction, found himself sitting in the belly of a whale. Jonah believes he is going to die, and that this would be his last prayer.

Jonah 2:1-9 Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the belly of the fish, saying,

“I called out to the Lord, out of my distress,
    and he answered me;
out of the belly of Sheol I cried,
    and you heard my voice.
 For you cast me into the deep,
    into the heart of the seas,
    and the flood surrounded me;
all your waves and your billows
    passed over me.
Then I said, ‘I am driven away
    from your sight;
yet I shall again look
    upon your holy temple.’
The waters closed in over me to take my life;
    the deep surrounded me;
weeds were wrapped about my head
   at the roots of the mountains.
I went down to the land
    whose bars closed upon me forever;
yet you brought up my life from the pit,
                                  O Lord my God.                              

   When my life was fainting away,
    I remembered the Lord,
and my prayer came to you,
    into your holy temple.
 Those who pay regard to vain idols
    forsake their hope of steadfast love.
 But I with the voice of thanksgiving
    will sacrifice to you;
what I have vowed I will pay.
    Salvation belongs to the Lord!”

Thanksgiving, true thanksgiving requires sacrifice. Thinking of all the “easy things” to be thankful for is a good thing. This jump starts our hearts and minds into being attentive to the gifts God gives us. But once we’re able to get there, there’s a farther step that typically requires a step of faith. If we don’t take this step, I’m going to say then we are willingly missing out on deepening our relationship with God, and falling more in love with Him than possibly ever before. This, my friend, is the step of giving thanks go God in the midst of pain, stress and heartache. And that step leads to us being able to actually thank God for the pain, stress and heartache that life throws our way.

I feel like Jonah is a Biblical character that we often pick on. But the passage, and his story, is pretty deep. Jonah went through a mess of a time and then of all things, got swallowed by a whale. But when Jonah got to his lowest low, he looked to God. Jonah knew that God could do a miracle, and save him. But Jonah was human, like you and me, and I’m pretty certain that Jonah thought his life would end by being digested by a fish. (Uh, nasty.) So looking back upon all that God had done for him, he is moved to thanksgiving. Now that’s an amazing heart-change that took place! And guess what?

Johan 2:10 “And the Lord spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah out upon the dry land.”

Jonah’s life was spared. When we get to the end of ourselves, and look to God, it should stir our hearts to thanksgiving. I’m not going to tell you that your pain will end, or your prayer will be answered in the way you want. But I will say, thanksgiving allows God to work in our hearts and change our perspective in order help us accomplish the tasks God sets before us. (Remember, Jonah lived, but God still had him go preach in Nineveh.)

Living in chronic pain is something that just doesn’t go away. It’s my “thorn in my flesh” I guess you can say. The pain fluctuates, but it’s always there and it has been since I was twelve. Not being able to do normal activities when I was younger like dance or sports was hard. I tried to not let it bother me when I sat on the sidelines of my friends’ soccer games. But I’m human. And it did. But through the years, instead of feeling sorry for myself, I leaned to a greater degree, what being dependent and relying on God means.

As pain greets me every morning, it’s an opportunity to turn towards or away from God. Many years ago I decided to not let this turn me away from God, but I allowed God to work in my heart and turn me towards Him. Looking to God has made me be able to say with genuine thankfulness, “Thank you, God, for this pain that allows me to see my constant need of you!”

“Because of it, I have learned to cry out to You all hours of the day and night. Because of that, I have a deep and abiding relationship with You that I would never want to trade for anything…even a pain-free life. Because of that, You have opened doors for me to share with others what true joy and lasting gratitude looks like, and that it’s possible for them to find it too.”

You may not live in chronic pain like me, but I can almost guarantee that there’s something in your life that threatens to take away your genuine thankful heart and rich relationship with your Father. Obviously, my story is nothing like Jonah’s (and I doubt yours is too) but I think there is something from his story and journey to thankfulness that we can all learn from.

Life has never been picture perfect since the moment Satan entered the Garden of Eden in the form of a serpent. If you think that following Jesus will lead to a bed of roses, then I am going to tell you that it’s not. It’s going to lead you to something far greater. A life with Jesus means that pain will happen. People will die, and sickness continues. But Jesus enters into our mess and draws close to us if we let Him. And when we let Him, He will ever so gently, but persistently, reveal Himself to us in the midst of our pain, stress and heartache. Then He will stir within us simply the wonder of Himself and all that He has done for us. This my friend, opens the door for our hearts to be filled and overflow with thankfulness. The richest kind of thankfulness comes with sacrifice. Are you ready?

~~~~~~~~~~

And yes, I realize Jonah’s story doesn’t end with an exclamation of thankfulness. But, really, am I there 100% of the time? No, I am not. But I want to be. Oh yes, I want to be….

Thank You

Thank you

It’s almost Christmas! Christmas memes are popping up all over the place and the battle between Christmas and enjoying November for what it’s worth has begun. Although I’m all about Christmas myself, this month of blogs I want to help prepare our hearts for Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving Day and the month of November, for that matter, are ‘socially acceptable’ times to dedicate time for gratitude and reflection on the good things that have come our way. So, using that is my inspiration, this month I want to look at gratitude and how God can grant us the eyes and hearts to see His goodness in our lives and how we can be grateful to Him for the good as well as in the struggle of our lives.

A two little phrase has tremendous power. It has the power to soften hearts, uplift others and change our whole perspective. These two words are so important that babies are often taught how to sign before they can utter the sounds: “Thank you.” That thought makes me pause and wonder. We are so quick to teach infants ‘thank you’ but how many times do we as adults utter those sounds? Do we say them too often where it’s second nature, and the words fall quickly yet empty from our mouths? Do we write a note and go the extra step of saying ‘thank you’ in order to show someone how much you appreciate them, their deeds or actions? Better yet, how often do we look towards Heaven and genuinely say ‘thank you’ to God for all that he has and has not given us?

Colossians 3:17 says: “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

1 Thessalonians 5:18: “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

Psalm 9:1 “I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart; I will recount all of your wonderful deeds.”

Psalm 95:2-3 “Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise! For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods.”

1 Chronicles 16:34 “Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!”

Just by glancing at Scripture, we see the theme of gratitude and giving thanks to God is woven all throughout the Old and New Testaments. Telling someone thank you because they opened the door for us is nice. Sending someone a “thank you” note is seen as a gesture of kindness. But gratitude goes far beyond either of those daily examples. You see, as believers, gratitude should be our platform we stand on, and foundational to our everyday life.

When we see that God is God and we are not, something happens. When we see God in His holiness, and then look at ourselves, something stirs within us. When we connect with fellow Christians or see the work of God displayed in our life, something rouses our soul. All of these resound a deep sense of gratitude.

You see, when we look at ourselves as we are, we are reminded that nothing is accomplished by our own strength. There is little room or entitlement or consumerism when this happens. Our lenses on how we see the world around us shift from our own wants and desires, to viewing everything from the perspective of what God has and continues to do for us. And this is freeing.

The rest of this month we’re going to look at gratitude and wrestle with what genuine gratitude means when life is going well, and when it is not. But for starters, I want us to get up on firmer ground and change our lenses. The Lord has saved us and redeemed us. Really, if that is all He did, wouldn’t it be enough? This truth alone gives us reason to rejoice and give thanks to God.

So, this week I invite you to pray and ask God if your perspective needs to change at all. Ask Him to give you a heart of gratitude that sees the world around you as a gift directly from Him, and not gifts that you think you deserve. As you face each new day this week, search for reasons to be grateful. The more practice you get in having an attitude of gratitude, the easier it will be maintaining a heart of gratitude…even as you thank God for what he has not given you.

Scripture is pretty clear. I’m just here as a friendly reminder. In everything we do, we are to give thanks. I’ll be honest and say that I want to be here. I want to be the person who thanks God 100% of the time even when I don’t get my way, or when a situation quickly goes south. But I am not. It’s a goal I strive for, and these upcoming blog posts will likely be ‘preaching to the choir’. But continual gratitude is my heart’s desire. I pray it’s yours too. I’m looking forward to journeying with you this month as we search for thankfulness within our hearts and homes during this season of thanksgiving.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Seesaw of Emotional Healing

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Next week we’ll begin talking about gratitude, but before we go there, I realize I need to spend one more week talking about the previous topic presented. (If you did not read “Reflection on Me Too,” I encourage you to do so as it ties into this.) The amount of response I received was truly humbling, but it also left me with a heaviness knowing there is so much brokenness even among my friends and acquaintances. Maybe one day, if God gives me the strength, I will write a book. But for now, another post will have to suffice.

Even for some of you, my focus on healing might have been too much. I understand that because for years (and that’s no exaggeration) I was there. So if that is you, then this blog post was written specifically with you in mind. For a long time “healing” was my least favorite word. Seriously. When I even heard someone talking about emotional healing (in whatever context) I would either cringe or inwardly scoff. Or if someone compared hanging onto the past like the need to rip off a Band-Aid, I just wanted to punch that person in the face. I’m serious. My wall was built high and my wall was strong.

In regards to healing, we have all heard the all too common phrase: “time heals all wounds.” Because this is such a popular thing, I felt the need to briefly touch on it. So. From the little I know and have experienced, time does not heal all wounds. Some yes, but not all, and especially not the deepest kinds. You may disagree, and if that phrase is true for you, then I am glad. But with sexual abuse I don’t advise banking on this phrase to end up ringing true. What time does however, is it brings more distance between your current state and your past trauma. Time blurs some things and makes some moments seem not quite as intense. Time allows you to be able to hear someone say his name, and you won’t feel like you’re about to have a panic attack. But healing is deeper than these things. Healing takes more than time. As I said last week, healing requires attention, effort and dedication. All of which cannot be done without the help of God.

I took some theatre classes in college where we used Freytag’s Pyramid to break down stories. The five parts needed to create a good story are: Exposition (setting of the story), Rising Action, Climax (major altering event aka big issues), Falling Action (issues begin to resolve), and Dénouement (resolution).

Freytag-Pyramid

As Christians, we can see this pattern in the Freytag’s Pyramid play out in every good story, yet deeply connected to the Gospel. How about we break down stories into four parts: Creation (the beginning part of your life, or a season that was really good) Fall (in this example, sexual abuse) Redemption (healing taking place) and Restoration (united with Christ in the new heavens and earth).

As Christians we live in the reality of today (containing evil and good) with the eternal hope we have in Christ that one day He will make all things right. It’s a balance and sometimes a tedious one; just like riding a seesaw. Our view changes depending on how high up or how low to the ground we are. But even in our darkest moments, we have something to hold onto…the hope of the Gospel.

If you are one of the people I addressed at the beginning of this post, please hold on. Each story varies in length between Are You My Mother and Les Misérable. The season of life you are in is not over. You are teetering in a place just beyond the Fall, yet before Restoration. I don’t know a lot, and I don’t know how long your seasonal story will be, but I do know this. Stories – good stories – have to go through each of the steps above before they are finished.

I know it’s the farthest thing from fun to feel stuck in this position somewhere between the Fall and Restoration in your story. No child is ok with being stuck sitting level on a seesaw for very long. Their favorite part is getting pushed up high to catch a different and better view.

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My friend, I realize you are deeply scarred, and you want to be better, but you are scared. You question whether or not you will ever get past your past. So first I want to affirm these emotions and say it’s honestly ok to feel this way for a season. There is no timeline to this process of healing, and you are not racing against someone else. However, my desire is to be your partner on this seesaw of emotional healing…to be that one who can help you get from feeling stuck to pushing you higher to catch a better view. My prayer for you as that one day soon, you will be in the position where you ‘saw’ your past, but you are ‘seeing’ God’s redemptive work in your life. So during this teetering stage, from saw to see, I want to encourage three things:

1) Allow yourself to fully feel your hurt and acknowledge where you are in the process.

2) Cling to God and the hope we have in the Gospel, and that our story is not over.

3) Realize where you want to go and make your battle plan.

1.) During one of my counseling sessions early on, my counselor and I realized I was not allowing myself to fully feel the pain and battle within me. I was reserved for so long because I was scared and I didn’t know how to handle myself. But you see, darkness cannot be rid of unless it’s exposed to the light. My counselor showed me this video clip from a well-known movie. It impacted me deeply enough that I wanted to share it here because this clip helped me relate. When I was able to see someone else’s angry pain, I was better able to see my own. This short clip began the process of pulling back the curtain of my ugly mess within.

Our flesh does say there aren’t enough rocks. There really aren’t. So get yourself in a safe place, with a safe person, and allow yourself to feel. Done right, you’ll end up a hot mess.

2.) But because of the rocks we have, the more opportunities we have to see God redeem our story. We have to be real with ourselves, and honest with God about our pain. Only then will our hearts be ready for God to begin a transformation in our lives.

Below are just a handful of Scriptures that were pivotal in my life during my seesawing stage from the Fall to Redemption.

Psalm 103 kind of became my “battle Psalm.” It’s a beautiful reminder of what God has done and continues to do for us, and how much He cares for us as His children.

Verses 2-5 “Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.”

Wow. I am called to bless the Lord because yes, he has done everything for me. A pit perfectly parallels what I felt like I was stuck in for so long – a deep dark pit with absolutely no way to get out. But my God redeems my life from that. He then crowns me. What?!? Only important and special people get crowns, right? But I get one too! And it gets better. He satisfies me with good…GOOD. And the trauma happened in my youth. God’s in the business of renewal and one day I’ll be able to fly again.

Verse 13 “As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him.”

My God is compassionate. He cares deeply about me and my pain.

Verse 17 “But the steadfast love of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children.”

We cannot even imagine what ‘everlasting to everlasting’ looks like. Because that’s like infinity and there’s a reason why the infinity symbol has no beginning and no end. And that’s His love for us. It’s not only unwavering because that’s what steadfast means, but it’s also unending. And guess what? He cares about our future and our children too.

2 Corinthians 12:9 “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

God gives us moment by moment grace. We feel weak, but our weakness is an opportunity for the power of God to be revealed in our lives, and in the lives of others.

Psalm 139:14 “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works, my soul knows it very well.”

Sexual abuse attacks you at your core. It attacks everything about who you are. Going back to the basics can be key. We are fearfully and wonderfully made. We are unique individuals with a specific calling on our life that no one else can do. You are you and I am me for a reason. That is a wonderful work to rejoice in.

Deuteronomy 1:30 “The Lord your God who goes before you will himself fight for you.”

God knows our battle more than anyone. But get this – He not only fights for us, on our behalf, but he goes before us. He leads the way on the path towards true emotional healing. Because He leads the way, we know it is safe to keep walking.

With the amount of brokenness in your life right now, picking up the Bible can be intimidating, as you may be unsure of where to go. My encouragement would be start with one of these Scriptures above, and then go to the Psalms. But really, whatever floats your boat…as long as you are soaking up Truth!

3.) As you may have noticed by now, I’m all about application. If you hear something, great, but if you don’t apply it, then it’s going to do you no good.

Proverbs 29:18 “Where there is not vision the people perish.”

I really want to encourage you to take a step and create your vision. Get out that journal you began last week (right?) and write your vision. What steps are you going to take to help you go from saw to see, from the Fall (your own experience of sexual abuse) to Redemption (your own story of emotional healing)? Right now you may be stuck level, but by making a vision, you believe that there is a better view waiting for you. This view that can only be seen because of the courage you have in pushing with all your strength to be at the high point on the seesaw…the point where God’s redemption is what you see and your past is what you saw.

From someone who knows, please believe me that hope is not empty. Emotional healing is on the way. Hugs to you, my friend. You are braver than you think.

Reflection on “Me Too”

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The hashtag began trending on Social Media platforms earlier this week. Normally I’m not one to “jump on the bandwagon” or keep up with all the trends. But I stared at my computer screen and something urged within me. I felt as though this was too important not to pass me by. Unfortunately, the two words resonated within me. Me too.

I will not waste your precious time to go into any details because I am not the one I want you to focus on. There is something of far greater importance than using Instagram to echo the cries of so many. Even as I wrote the words “Me Too,” I knew I could not stop there. There is something I am compelled to share, and I am daft to keep it from anyone. Please, do not let this pass you by.

It happened when I was a teen. I grew up conservative and was taught to save even my first kiss for my wedding day. I was a “good girl.” You may laugh, but I have never owned skinny jeans or a bikini. But did this make a difference in sparing me from the invasive situations? (Yes, more than one.) Heck no. Sometimes life spins completely out of your control.

I know what it’s like to secretly live in shame. I know what it’s like to, for years on end, to buy into the lie that it was my fault. I know what it’s like to completely loose trust in guys, and have the pounding in my chest if a guy even stood too close to me. I know what it’s like to look into the face of my boyfriend (now husband) and relay the entire story – fearing that I would be risking an end of our relationship.

If I could hug each of you who said “Me Too,” I would. But I can’t. But what I can do is more important than any hug.

There is hope. I believe without a shadow of a doubt that there is healing – for all of us. Trust me, for the longest time I did not think this was possible. But it is. Will we ever be the same? No. Our pasts mold us into the person we’ve become, and shape our view on the world and each other. But that was our past. We do not live there anymore.

I know what it’s like to take a step. I know what it’s like to hope again that life could get better. I know what it’s like to take my guard down, and let a worship song leave me weeping with the realization that in God’s eyes, I am flawless. I know what it’s like to have a conversation with a professional counselor that leaves me sobbing like a two year old. I know what it’s like to feel completely broken…broken so that the love of God could flow freer in my life than it ever had before. I know what it’s like to have a dark cloud and a weight lifted. I know what it’s like to be able to look at my naked body again without shame. I know what it’s like to cry out to God and have a deeper relationship with Him than I ever anticipated. Friend, I’m telling you these things because I want them for you.

I am going to be frank and say two things. #1 If you do not know Jesus as your Lord and Savior, I urge you to do so. I do not know how anyone can find true healing from such offenses without Him. #2 Healing does not happen overnight or even over a span of six months. There is not a timeframe on healing, but know that the end goal is worth any length of wait! It takes patience but it also takes active work.

Everyone is different. Every story is unique. But I want to share some tools that helped empower me for the healing process to begin.

  • Pray. I cannot stress this point enough. There were so many times during this process I felt as if I was suffocating and Jesus was my only lifeline. Never underestimate the power of prayer.
  • Seek professional counseling. This takes courage. I’m not saying that to show you I was brave. I’m saying that because I was terrified to go to counseling, but I was desperate. The emotional and psychological ramifications are serious. I know it’s expensive, but the lessons learned are life changing and life lasting. I recommend finding a Christian professional counselor who deals with sexual issues. Please, not just a pastor or mentor. They have their place, but maybe not here.
  • Memorize Scripture. You are currently in bondage from your past, and Satan doesn’t want you to experience full freedom in Christ. I have never felt Spiritual warfare to be more real and present before or since then. Having Scripture to combat Satan’s lies was key to survival for me.
  • Tell trusted family and friends. This not only takes courage, but also discernment. You need to be prepared for the variety of responses you will receive. However, finding people who you can be vulnerable with, and who will pray and check up on you is huge. Keep in mind that I used the word “trusted” here and not “all” your family and friends. You will know the person/people you need.
  • Journal. You’re going to go through every possible emotion during this process. (I do not have a punching bag at home, but I do have paper and pens.) J
  • Have Scripture put up in prevalent places. My bathroom mirror is lined with sticky notes of verses, for example. Again, spiritual warfare is real, and you need to be ready.
  • Smile at your naked (yes naked) self in the mirror and tell yourself, “I like the way I look.” Do this repetitively until the day you can genuinely feel that way again.

I pray blessings upon each of you, my friends. You are a child of God, flawless in His eyes. You are precious and deserve to be cherished and loved. My prayer is that God will strengthen you for this process of healing. May you be encouraged daily by the truth that He loves you, He is for you, He comforts you, and He fights for you. Maybe one day “me too” won’t be an echo of pain. Maybe one day “me too” will be an echo of joy because God has made us whole.     Continue reading