What’s Missing?

Are you living these days with the underlying sense that something’s missing?

What’s missing?
Is it:
> the freedom to go wherever you want without virus concerns? Well, sort of.
> the luxury of getting everything you want shipped to you in 24 hours? Well, sort of.
> the ability to schedule your days, knowing your kids will physically go to school everyday? Well, sort of.
> the joy of planning big weddings and holiday celebrations? Well sort of.
What’s really missing is — stability — knowing we can count on people, things, schedules, something.
After a year and a half, we’re still not there.

So why don’t we have stability?

It’s not because of corona virus; it’s another virus that’s been raging throughout the whole human race since humanity began. We have a plague of selfishness — an insidious contagion sickening our world. Selfishness destabilizes everything.

Selfishness makes a bully puff up his own identity by picking on others.
Selfishness gives us permission to stand by and do nothing when a neighbor is wronged.
Selfishness moves us to answer disagreements with gun shots.
Selfishness makes would-be mothers and fathers kill inconveniently-timed unborn babies.
Selfishness presses politicians and media to work more on preserving power and party than defend and develop our democracy.
Selfishness cheers on a woman leaving her husband or a man abandoning his family as leaving is easier than solving problems.
Selfishness enables us to run from reality and responsibility into the fantasy worlds of video games and pornography.
Selfishness is simply, “I want to do what I want to do, regardless….”

Disregard for other people is the test tube where the virus of selfishness incubates. In many cases, we have no regard for people because we have no regard for the God who created them. And we wonder why we’re living with instability.

The plague of selfishness is not new. Unlike the novel corona virus, disregard for people and God has been around awhile. About 3,000 years ago a group of people were wandering in the Sinai Desert with a guy named Moses out in front. They had said they were loyal to follow God since He had miraculously rescued them from slavery in Egypt, but the very reason they ended up wandering in the desert was — they wanted to do what they wanted to do. God had prepared a new place for them to live, but they would have had to work for it, in fact, fight for it. Though this same God had defeated Pharaoh and the entire nation of Egypt with supernatural miracles, the people refused to trust His ability to plant them in their new land. They whined, complained and started talking about going back to Egypt. So God said (paraphrasing, mine), “Fine. You don’t have to fight for your land; go walk around the desert for the next 40 years.”

Refusing God’s will & choosing self will often lead us to dry, dusty deserts in life.

As you can imagine, wandering in a desert can make you hungry so the people grumbled. God mercifully and miraculously made flakes like bread appear each night so the people could gather them in the morning, but the bread God provided had to be gathered and eaten God’s way. The people were only supposed to pick up enough for each family member for the day. God told Moses to tell them that at the end of the day, “No one is to keep any of it until morning.” God’s will was clearly stated. The people’s response? “However, some of them paid no attention to Moses; they kept part of it until morning, but it was full of maggots and began to smell.” (Genesis 16:20) The very thing God had provided for their good, their healthy living — was rotting, decaying — because the people didn’t handle it correctly. They didn’t follow God’s instructions. They did what they wanted instead of what God told them was good for them. Does that sound familiar if you look at how a lot of us choose to live today?

That same thinking, “I want to do what I want to do” with no regard for other people or God, is causing rottenness and decay in our lives today — so we are sorely missing stability. Instead we have our modern version of rot and decay. Bullying. Indifference. Baby killing. Shootings. Divisive politics. Family abandonment. Addiction to video gaming and pornography.

We want to do what we want to do so we live amongst rot and decay with everything feeling unstable.

However, there is a way to stop the smell of decay and start to restore stability. Here’s the secret to living a life that is the opposite of everything falling apart. In Him all things hold together. (Colossians 1:17) “Him” is Jesus, God. He died on the cross and rose from the dead to prove His power over death and decay. He has the power to sustain and prevent breakdown and He gives His Spirit to all who follow Him so that WE, too, have the strength to make choices that build up and sustain, not break down. If we disregard Jesus then we reject His power — the power that can hold things together in our lives, our minds, our marriages, our families, our friendships, our schools, our government, our nation. There is no middle ground; we either accept Jesus and His ways or we are rejecting Him — the “Him” of whom it’s written, “In Him all things hold together.” Apart from Him, we can do nothing worthwhile. There aren’t enough self-help books or productivity podcasts on the planet to stabilize the spiral of decay that human selfishness has set in motion, but in Him all things hold together.

Want stability?

Get “in Him.” He stands with open arms. Tell Him you want to surrender your self will and embrace His good, perfect and pleasing will for your life. What’s missing? Many will say the old life before the corona virus. What’s really missing is a new life, surrendered to Jesus who has the power to bring better stability than we can ever know apart from Him. If you’ve never invited Jesus and His stabilizing power into your life, here is your invitation. If you need to renew your commitment to His will over your will, here’s your invitation. Jesus is standing, knocking, waiting for you to open the door to Him and His stabilizing power. You don’t have to live with the “something’s missing” feeling any longer. Jesus says,

“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in…” (Revelation 3:20)

2020: In One Word

What one word would you use to sum up 2020? Unexpected? Unsettled? Or perhaps the ever-popular, unprecedented? Is it even possible to condense a year of global pandemic, social unrest, and disaster du jour into one word? As I thought about 2020, the word longing came to mind. We longed for the virus to go away and for life to get back to normal. We longed for restoration from wildfires and hurricanes. We longed for justice, comfort and peace. We longed for joy. And, as evidenced in surges of newcomers attending online church services and of Google searches about “prayer,” we longed for Jesus.

Seemingly in a flash, 2020 dashed to pieces any idea that we were in control. Celebrations that had always marked our lives were suddenly forbidden, or at best went “drive-by” or virtual. Sporting events that had previously knit together our weeknights and weekends took an abrupt time out. Travel once seen as refreshing became not worth the risk. The truth became evident; we were not as in charge as we thought.

Well, it was much the same for God’s people 2000 years ago. They were not in charge, either. They lived under oppression — the oppression of Roman governors and of sin. They longed for restoration. They longed for a better normal life. They longed for justice, comfort and peace. They longed for joy. They longed for Messiah, for someone to save them..

And on a magnificent starry night in Bethlehem 2000 years ago, God sent Light into the dark world, keeping the promise He had hinted at in the Garden of Eden and held out to Abram (who would later be renamed Abraham). The Promised One, the Messiah, the Word made flesh, was born into our world to crush the head of evil, open for us the door of heaven, and usher in His righteous eternal reign. God proved His faithfulness to meet our deepest longing as Jesus, Emmanuel, “God with us,” came to earth — bringing with Him eternal justice, comfort, peace and joy. May you live in and celebrate this reality this Christmas. Joy to the World the Lord is Come!

Bible Verses to Ponder:
And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers;
he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”  Genesis 3:15

The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.   I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”Genesis 12:1,3

1The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest, as warriors rejoice when dividing the plunder.
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this. Isaiah 9:1-3, 6-7

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16

Grandma’s Gratitude

My grandmother was the most grateful person I’ve ever known. She was easily delighted by a lemon-filled donut, a surprise visit from family, or a photo album chronicling a celebration. I remember her with a smile on her face and joy in her heart. Anyone who met her would never have guessed that she had ever lacked anything, but her past told a different story.

She grew up in a house with dirt floors. Her childhood was marked by hard daily work on the farm, often around large animals that frightened her. Joy and laughter were hard to find, as were brand new clothes or other things often considered necessities today.

After years juggling school and hard work, she married, moved away from the farm and took a job in a dental office. She had three daughters, lost her only son, and weathered by faith almost losing her youngest daughter in another health crisis. Through it all she was not bitter and did not complain. In the old photo albums, she was always smiling in her children’s or grandchildren’s wedding pictures, smiling with a new grandchild or great grandchild in her arms, smiling in someone’s graduation or holiday celebration.

She never had a big house, never took big trips, but she had a big heart and knew how to do a big Thanksgiving. The whole extended family would gather in her small house. All the food went on a long table in the basement. We said grace with people standing throughout her little kitchen, dining room and family room. Then everybody went to the basement and filled their plates with food. Some of us ate in groups upstairs and others were downstairs; her little house was full to overflowing with joy and gratitude.

I think my grandmother overflowed with gratitude because she chose to live in the reality that she didn’t deserve anything…that everything was a gift. When you start with dirt floors, 20-year old carpet under your feet is luxurious. How often does my bitterness, or even jealousy, spring from not having something that I think I should?

We all know our Thanksgiving celebrations this year will look different. All of 2020 has looked pretty different. So I’m trying to approach these holidays like my grandmother would — focusing not on what I don’t have or think I should have — but on everything good that has come into my life. It’s easy to be so distracted by what we think we’re missing that we miss noticing our blessings. May God draw your focus to the people in your life who love you. May He give you this Thanksgiving eyes to see the abundant good He has brought into your life and may He give you a heart that is easily delighted by them!

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

Pre-Election Letter to my Friends

So in our nation, it feels like anxiety and suppressed emotion are building up like steam in an old locomotive engine ahead of the election. Whether spoken or unspoken, it’s as if people are holding their breath waiting to see if their “ideology” or the “enemy ideology” wins the election. If the tension that seems to be floating in the air is any indication, no matter how all the political races end, a whole bunch of people are going to be catastrophically disappointed and a whole bunch of others are going to be happy — I think.

The human temptation (if one ends up on the “winning” side), is to whoop, holler and gloat with excessive celebration. On the other hand, if one ends up on the “losing” side, the temptation is to weep, wail and (according to recent trends) lash out in violent frustration. Some of the pent-up emotion is the result of this grueling election war we have all watched in the media for months. Some is the result of being held hostage by an oppressive pandemic for almost 7 months. Some is the result of personal oppression that has spanned years.

Regardless of the cause, it might be wise of us to anticipate the opening of the emotional flood gates and pray in advance for God to enable all of us to respond to election outcomes with grace, compassion and self-control. If our candidate wins, perhaps we could plan to be sensitive to those around us whose candidate didn’t, guarding our words and Facebook posts? Perhaps if our candidate doesn’t win, we could hold onto the truth that there is NO political leader who is equipped to step in and fix all that is broken in any people group, be it local or national. God already sent the world a Savior and His name is neither Donald nor Joe, but Jesus. He is not hanging around with a physical presence anymore, but the Spirit of Jesus is alive and well — and those of us who claim to follow Him are called to be His hands and feet here. The song says, “They will know we are Christians by our love.”

To my friends…Christian or not or unsure…(which include those of widely varying skin color and political ideologies, btw) — I am a sister in Christ and/or friend to you before I am in any way political. After the election dust settles, I will continue working behind the scenes to bring blessing to you where I can. I will continue to pray for you and be a friend to you.

Hoping compassion is contagious…

Available Now: Incomparable Power

In this moment, my heart is full and I’m just sitting at my desk in awe of God. Not because the virus has gone away. (It hasn’t.)  Not because all humanity has figured out how to treat each other with respect, love and kindness. (They haven’t.) Not because all the nations of the world are governed by wise leaders who care first and foremost for the well-being of all their citizens. (We aren’t quite there yet.) My heart is full in this moment because Ephesians 1:18-21 took my eyes off immediate problems and refocused them on “bigger-picture” power…God’s power… available to me and to everyone who follows Jesus.

God’s power displayed through Jesus
To avoid any confusion caused by reading God and Jesus as if they are two different beings, Christians speak of God as one God in three “persons,” for lack of a better word. There is only one God. However, God includes God the Father (planner of creation and of the salvation of believing people), Jesus the Son (the “instrument” used by the Father — such as God’s Word that brought forth all created things and the God-man who died on the cross to save people), and the Holy Spirit (whom I think of as the invisible power of God — hovering over the waters at creation and strengthening Jesus to complete His work on the cross). All three — God, Jesus and Holy Spirit — are fully God and work together in perfect unity.

So back to God’s “bigger-picture” power displayed in Jesus — the Son, who died on the cross.  How strong was that power? Ephesians 1:19-20 speaks of God’s “incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of His mighty strength which He exerted in Christ when He raised Him from the dead.” It’s easy to think of God’s power working to bring Jesus from death to life, which is an amazing, miraculous thing in itself. Yet as big as the chasm between death and life is, Jesus’ real journey and the power that enabled it was even greater.

Starting on the cross, Jesus actually went from a place lower than death and ended up in a place much higher than what we think of as everyday life. Jesus was sinless, unlike regular people. He had never known shame or guilt or the feeling of having messed up and being distant from God, His heavenly Father. Jesus was perfect. That was the point. The wages of sin is death. Sin earns death. Someone had to pay for all the wrong things all people had done (and are doing right now and will do) throughout time, or all people would be doomed to spend eternity apart from the loving God who created them for tender, close relationship with Him. So Jesus went to the cross still in a perfect love relationship with the Father, but there was a moment on the cross where Jesus hit an all-time low — lower than death.

Starting on the cross, Jesus actually went from a place lower than death and ended up in a place much higher than what we think of as life.

It happened in the hours between noon and 3PM. From a thick, physical darkness that covered the land, Jesus cried out, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” In that moment, Jesus bore the sin of all humanity. Scripture tells us He “became sin who knew no sin.” All our sin for all time was placed on His shoulders and the holy Father God, who can’t be connected to sin in any way, had to do something drastic. He let His Son suffer eternal punishment for all that sin. A contemporary Christian song says it this way. “How great the pain of searing loss. The Father turns His face away….Behold the man upon the cross. My sin upon His shoulders.” That was the place that was lower than death, separation from the Father. Each person who rejects Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross for their sin will still suffer that dreadful, dark separation from God and punishment for their sin forever. But that does not have to be your eternity. Jesus was and is infinite God, not limited by time or space, so He took the full eternal punishment of all who believe in that marked span of time when the Father turned His face away. In that lowest of low moments, Jesus made possible a new eternity for all who believe.

Of course, Jesus didn’t stay in that low place. And He didn’t just come back to continue life on earth as we know it, only to die again like Lazarus, (though Jesus did hang out here for awhile so everyone would know He was alive.) No, that incomparable power of God ultimately brought Jesus to a much higher place as we can see going on in Ephesians 1:20 — “That power…which He exerted in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.” That incomparable power took Jesus from the lowest low of being scorned by God all the way up to God’s throne room! And God does the same for all who believe in Jesus as Savior.

That incomparable power took Jesus from the lowest low of being being scorned by God up to God’s throne room!

God’s power displayed to me
Unlike Jesus, I was not (and still am not) sinless. Aside from being born a sinner like every human, I got really good at doing what I wanted (often opposite of what God wanted) and I even spent years running away from Him. It’s not hard to see that I was separated from God, but even in that low and broken place God still extended protection and help to me. I certainly didn’t deserve it. God just kept pouring out love and grace, like an incredibly patient parent creating and enforcing safe boundaries until the troubled child decides to obey and live in the close, loving relationship for which she was created. I know now that what I was thinking, saying and doing in the days before I turned to Him was all detestable to God. I was familiar with the idea of Jesus dying on the cross, but had decided that I was too busy to care. If I had died during that time, God (who is not only perfectly holy, but perfectly just) would have had no recourse except to send me to eternal punishment because I had chosen not to pay attention and accept the sacrificial gift of Jesus paying for my sins on the cross. That is about as low as it gets.

If I had died during that time, God (who is not only perfectly holy, but perfectly just) would have had no recourse except to send me to eternal punishment because I had decided not to pay attention and accept the sacrificial gift of Jesus paying for my sins on the cross.

ENTER: The incomparable power of God in my life. God didn’t leave me there. He let me fall into crisis so that I would realize how low I really was. My world collapsed as all the things I had wrongly built my life around crumbled. When I finally took my eyes of myself and looked up to Him for help, He was right there — ready to prove that His incomparable power was able to lift me up from the lowest low to the highest high. Suddenly, I saw that the cross was for me. I prayed and confessed my sins and Jesus forgave them. I breathed in the assurance of eternity in Heaven with the God who loved me enough to give His life for me. I felt weight lifted off my shoulders, saw life begin to make sense and discovered that I had a divinely-assigned purpose in living. Talk about going from low to high, but that’s not all.

God’s incomparable power ultimately promises to take all who believe in Jesus as Savior to where Jesus is now, the Father’s very presence. Speaking in past tense because this highest high is such a sure thing, Ephesians 2:6 says, “And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with Him in the heavenly realms…” How high is this high? Look at this description from Revelation 21:3-4. “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.”

THAT is the incomparable power of God, the only power with strength enough to rescue the believer from the lowest pit and sweep him or her up to the highest place, the throne room of Heaven, treasured by holy God, Himself. This incomparable power takes people from the pit to the pinnacle, from an eternity of destruction to an eternity of perfection. My heart is full as I ponder the incomparable power of God available to you and to me. I pray that in this moment your heart is full, too, because you have already called out to Jesus as Lord and are already experiencing the incomparable power of God in your life. If not, it’s not too late. Jesus’ hand is extended to you right now from the throne room of God the Father. Take hold. Ask Him to be your Savior and begin to live in His incomparable power right now. And if Jesus already is your Savior, then look with fresh eyes at His incomparable power at work in you. Call out to Him for help. God is still in the business of “lifting up,” whether from sin or sickness, from crumbling relationships or self-esteem, from fear or feeling too faint to take on the task He has given. When we are weak, He makes us strong with His incomparable power.