Things I’m Loving: March Edition

I’m so glad winter is almost over. I used to have this fantasy of living somewhere with actual seasons, but this last week of Texas ice has done me in. It’s time to face facts: I am a winter wimp. Those of you living in Boston and North Dakota and Alaska and places where there is real live snow on the ground that lasts months, I salute you.

And I’m really glad it’s going to be 60 degrees here next weekend.

Here’s some things I’m loving right now:


How to Catch a Prince is the third book in Rachel Hauck’s Royal Wedding series, and it’s my favorite of the three. I know the princess story thing can feel a little overdone, but Hauck puts a wonderfully fresh spin on it. One of the things I enjoy about Rachel’s books is that she always includes a touch of the supernatural. Not supernatural as in werewolves and vampires, but supernatural as in God breaking into our normal and transforming it with heaven’s glory. Corina and Stephen are real, relatable characters who will challenge you to love well. If you’re looking for a sweet romance with spiritual depth, this is a great choice.

Lizzy & Jane is another Christian fiction book I enjoyed. When I first picked it up, I thought this was going to be another Pride and Prejudice retelling. It’s not. Though Austen references figure heavily in the book, Lizzy and Jane isn’t just another contemporary rehashing of Elizabeth and Darcy’s romance. There’s some romance, but it’s really a book about two sisters finding, forgiving, and learning to love each other again. It’s an enjoyable read but it also has spiritual depth to it and kept me turning pages.

This is one I’m excited about. A while back I contributed to a children’s anti-trafficking curriculum developed by FAAST International. Change Agents is a 7 week anti-trafficking curriculum for children ages 8-13 designed to help educate children and their families about human trafficking, help prevent children from becoming victims, and empower children and their families to make a difference. It’s a heavy topic and I know it may seem awkward to talk about these subjects with your preteens. But here’s the deal: traffickers prefer to target children below the age of 14. Waiting until they’re older may be too late. The goal of Change Agents is to help children develop a healthy understanding of how much God loves and values them so that they will be less likely to become victims. This is an important resource and I’d encourage you to check it out. Change Agents will be available March 9, 2015.

So did you see that Elsa got arrested in both Texas and South Carolina?  Take a hint girlfriend: enough winter already.

I really liked these Bible journaling tabs from The Littlest Way. If you did this over the course of a year, I think it would be a great tool for looking back at the end of the year and tracing how God has spoken to you throughout the year.

4 Keys to Evangelism in Honor-Shame Cultures. It’s always interesting to me how our culture impacts how we hear and respond to the gospel. This is the first installment of a three-part series Ed Stetzer is hosting on his blog about the spread of the gospel in honor-shame cultures. Check it out.

My top posts from last month:

Why I’m Not Watching 50 Shades.

Winning our Battles Through Worship.

And so it’s your turn. What are you loving this month? What are you reading, singing, listening to? What’s caught your attention? Share with us in the comments!



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The Cost of Sin and the Door of Hope

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The story of Achan’s sin in Joshua 7 is one of those Bible stories that makes us squirm. Yes, Achan sinned. But in our modern western eyes the consequences don’t seem to fit the crime. We forget that sin is costly.

Achan forgot that too.

From the beginning, we as readers know more than the characters in the story do. It’s like those moments in movies when you find yourself yelling at the hero not to turn on the car because you know there’s a bomb under the hood. The narrator drops a bomb right there in Joshua 7:1. “But the Israelites were unfaithful in regard to the devoted things; Achan, son of Karmi, the son of Zimri,the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took some of them. So the Lord’s anger burned against Israel.”

Israel is getting ready to go into battle against Ai. Compared to Jericho, Ai looks like a cakewalk. Joshua doesn’t even send the whole army up to Ai–only about 3000 men. But what we know that Joshua and the army don’t is that God is angry with Israel and has withdrawn his favor from them because of Achan’s sin. God’s presence and power do not go with Israel into battle, and the Israelite army is routed. 36 soldiers are killed, and the rest flee. Joshua and the elders of Israel fall on their faces before the Lord, and God reveals to Joshua what we already know: there is sin in the camp.

A process of casting lots reveals Achan as the guilty one. During the battle of Jericho, God had commanded that all the wealth of the city be dedicated to the Lord–a kind of first fruits offering of the plunder of the land. Achan knew this, but he saw in the city some beautiful things. A beautiful  robe. 200 shekels of silver. A bar of gold. He saw. He wanted. He took. Achan hid the objects in his tent and lied to cover up his sin. Achan deliberately and deceitfully took what God had claimed for his own. Achan sinned, and he paid the price. So did his family. Achan, his family, and all his possessions were stoned and then burned with fire. It is a terrible, tragic scene.

We struggle with that ending because it seems unfair to us. Achan sinned, but did his family have to pay the price? It feels wrong to us because we so strongly value individual responsibility and autonomy. The Hebrew culture had a more corporate, community-based understanding of sin and responsibility. In their worldview, Achan’s sin was shared by his family. His sin affected his family. It affected his nation. It affected the families of the 36 men who died in battle. The wages of sin is death, and Achan received what he had earned.

Thankfully, we live on this side of the cross. In his death, Jesus paid the price for our sin. But we should take note of Achan’s story and remember: sin always has a cost.

We know sin costs us, but our sin costs those around us as well. Like ripples spreading from a stone cast into a pond, our sin affects everyone it touches. When a husband commits adultery, it costs his wife suffering and anguish. When a pastor falls, it costs his congregation a measure of their faith and trust. When I’m irritable and short-tempered, my children pay the price. When we tolerate sin in our lives instead of pursuing holiness, it costs our congregations a measure of God’s presence and power when we gather in worship. That’s why God calls his people to revival. Sin is costly and when we sin we are not the only ones who pay.

The good news is that God is gracious. The valley where Achan was stoned became known as the “Valley of Achor,” the “Valley of Trouble.” In Hosea, God promises his people that he will turn the “valley of Achor into a door of hope” (Hosea 2:15). We know the trouble and the terrible price of sin. But God has graciously given us a solution: confess, repent, and cast ourselves on Jesus. The cross transforms our valleys of trouble into doors of hope. It is in those broken places the power of God’s redemptive love flows through.

Maybe you’ve stood like Achan and watched as the ripples of your sin went farther than you’d ever dreamed. Your sin has cost you. It’s cost your family. Maybe it’s even cost your community. Know that there is hope. Confess. Repent. Return. Jesus stands waiting for you. Let him be your door of hope.



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Winning our Battles through Worship

I’m not sure how many times I’ve read the story of Joshua and the battle of Jericho. It’s a perennial preschool ministry favorite. Grab the cardboard blocks and a few kazoos, build a wall, and act out the story. You get to talk about how awesome God is, plus knock down a wall and spend a few minutes in little-boy heaven.

It’s a win-win.

But this time I saw something different in the story:

Israel won the Battle of Jericho through worship.

Let’s set the scene. The nation of Israel is at the end of their Exodus wanderings. The generation that fled Egypt has perished in the wilderness. Now their children and grandchildren are ready to take the land and inherit the promise that was given to their fathers. God himself threw open the door to the promised land, holding back the floodwaters of the Jordan River and leading the people across on dry land. They’re ready. Now one thing stands in their way.

Jericho.

When God give Joshua his marching orders, the Lord leaves no doubt that he is the one giving them the city. Jericho, and all the land, belong to the Lord. He and he alone has the power to grant them to his people. So God’s instructions to Joshua don’t have anything to do with besieging the city. God tells them they will take the city through worship.

God tells Joshua to gather the people and march around the city once each day for seven days. The priests are to lead the procession with the ark–a visible symbol of the Lord’s presence with them. 7 priests with 7 trumpets are to go before the ark. On the 7th day, they are to march around the city 7 times. Then the priests will blow the trumpets, the people will shout, and the walls will fall.

That’s not warfare. That’s worship. And it’s not the only time in Scripture that we see it. 2 Chronicles 20 tells how King Jehoshaphat led the people of Judah into battle with singing. As the people worshiped their enemies fought among themselves and destroyed one another. Acts 16 records how Paul and Silas were thrown into jail in Philippi. That night Paul and Silas sat with their feet in the stocks and sang songs of praise. God sent an earthquake, the prison doors were flung open, and the jailer got saved.

When we face our Jerichos–our places of battle–sometimes we’re tempted to fight the war with the world’s weapons. We resort to manipulation, gossip, and deceit. We grasp for power and jostle for position, prepared to fight for our seat at the table. But these aren’t the weapons God gives us for our battle.

We have an enemy–Satan and the spiritual forces of darkness that stand in opposition to God and his people. We can’t win that battle by fighting on his terms. God gives us a different set of weapons to use. Prayer. Testimony. Worship. The Word of God, and the precious blood of Jesus by which we have already won the victory. We can’t win our battles the world’s way. We win through following God’s battle plan.

We win by living out radical worship.

What are the challenges before you this week? What battles are you facing? Know that our God has already given you victory–a victory won not in battle but on a cross. Stand in obedience on the truth of his word. Bathe your battle in prayer. Listen to stories of victory, and move forward in worship. Then look to see what God will do–for he is faithful.



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50 Shades of Hope

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I don’t know where you are as you read this today.

Maybe you are one of the 17.7 million American women who has been the victim of rape or attempted rape.

Maybe you have had an abortion–something 1 in 3 American women do by age 45.

Maybe you are among the 18% of women who regularly use the Internet for sexual purposes.

Maybe you are struggling because deep down you believe your problems in the bedroom mean there’s a problem with you. Sex is painful or boring or just one more thing on your to-do list. Maybe you don’t want to trust your husband with your body because right now you can’t trust him with your heart. Maybe there’s secret shame you’re hiding, or maybe you’ve sat in congregations and listened to pastors talk about modesty on one hand and 30 day sex challenges on the other and wished they’d all just make up their minds.

There is hope. And his name is Jesus.

Jesus brings healing to all our brokenness–even our sexual brokenness. He’s done it before.

Remember the woman at the well? 5 husbands, and living with a man who wasn’t her husband? Jesus confronted her sin, but he didn’t shame her. He offered her living water–he offered her himself–and he made her a mother in Israel and a missionary to her people.

Then there was the woman caught in adultery. Jesus didn’t pick up a stone. His words made her accusers drop their stones and slink away. He refused to condemn her and sent her away, telling her to go and sin no more.

There was the “sinful woman” (Luke 7:37) who crashed a banquet to anoint Jesus feet with perfume, washing his feet with her tears and wiping them with her hair. Jesus didn’t recoil from her touch. He accepted her worship and pronounced her forgiven.

Mary Magdalene was afflicted by seven demons. Tradition says she was a prostitute, though the biblical text never does. I personally doubt that, since Mary had enough financial resources to help support Jesus in his ministry (Luke 8:1-3). Still, odds are a woman afflicted by seven demons knew sexual brokenness. Satan’s mean and those are the games he likes to play. But Jesus–Jesus set her free. She was welcomed among the disciples. And Mary was the first to see the risen Savior. Satan stole her past. Jesus gave her a future.

People will tell you there are other ways to get free. Read this book, watch this movie, don’t be so uptight. Everybody’s doing it; just get over it; do what feels right. But here’s the truth: our freedom is only found in Jesus.

Jesus is our hope. If you have been wounded and beaten up by someone’s sin against you, Jesus is waiting to heal your hurts and set you free. If you struggle with the shackles of sin weighing down your steps, Jesus won’t turn you away. Turn to him, and he’ll run to welcome you home.

Wherever you are tonight, I want you to know there is hope in Jesus. Don’t keep suffering in silence. Run to Jesus. And find someone to tell. Focus on the Family can help you find a counselor near you.

How does Jesus give you hope? Share a verse of hope in the comments.



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Why I’m Not Watching 50 Shades

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Y’all might have heard there’s a notorious little movie coming out just in time for Valentine’s Day. Two weeks before the movie’s release, Fandago is already reporting that the movie based on E.L. James’ erotic novel 50 Shades of Grey is the fastest selling R rated movie of all time. Early projections are that 50 Shades will take in $60 million for its four-day box office total.

I’m not going.

I’m not watching because God calls us to flee sexual immorality, not fantasize about it.

In 1 Corinthians 6:18, Paul urged the Corinthian church to “flee sexual immorality.” Why? Apparently there were some members of the church who were participating in sexually immoral behavior and justifying it with bumper sticker slogans like “I have the right to do anything” and “food for the stomach and the stomach for food.” Paul doesn’t mince words in his reply. You may have the right to do anything, but not everything is beneficial. You have the right to do anything, but don’t be mastered by it.We are called to flee sexual immorality because our bodies–and minds–are the temples of the Holy Spirit. We are called to honor God with our minds and our bodies. Flee temptation–don’t flirt with it.

I’m not watching because erotica and pornography distort God’s good gift of sex.

God designed sex as a good gift for husband and wife. Erotica and pornography pervert and distort that gift. In the Old Testament, the Bible often uses the word “yada,” “to know,” as a euphemism for sex. At its heart, sex is about knowing and being known. In marriage, sex is an act of commitment, intimacy and vulnerability between husband and wife. We’re able to share our bodies with one another because we have shared our souls. Erotica and pornography strip sex away from the context of relationship. They tell us that other people designed in the image of God are there for our titillation and consumption. They tell us that sex is just a meeting of parts, not a merging of souls. They tell us that it’s all right to exploit another person for our entertainment. Sisters, recognize those lies for what they are. Erotica and pornography are nothing more than a Satan-inspired twisting and perverting of God’s good gift of sex. We should have nothing to do with them.

I’m not watching because BDSM denies God’s ultimate purpose for sex.

Can we just spell out what those initials stand for? Bondage. Dominance. Sadism. Masochism. Sadism and Masochism have to do with taking pleasure from inflicting and receiving pain. Bondage? Pretty much what it sounds like. Dominance is the role played by the sadist who seeks to dominate his or her partner by taking authority over them through tools such as humiliation, whipping, domestic or sexual slavery, and worse.

Does this sound like the kind of fantasy Christian women should be indulging in?

Somehow even in Christian culture we have accepted the idea that as long as it happens between two consenting adults and no one is harmed it’s okay. No harm, no foul.

Not so fast.

If sex is a gift from God, then we are meant to exercise that gift in accordance with his purposes. Pleasure and procreation are part of that purpose, but God’s purpose for sex goes beyond that. Marriage itself is a picture of Jesus’ sacrificial love for his people. Within the context of marriage, sex is a portrait of union and intimacy. We are meant to glorify God with our bodies in all that we do–even in our sexual relationships. Does enjoying inflicting pain on another person glorify God? Does dominating another person through humiliation and servitude reflect the attitude of our Savior, who made himself the servant of all?

Absolutely not.

I’m not watching because this type of fantasy breeds discontent with reality.

Anyone out there married to a billionaire with control issues stemming from his dark past? Didn’t think so. We live in the real world with real husbands who leave their socks in the floor, dirty dishes in the sink, and worry if we’re going to run out of money before we run out of month. I get the need for a mental escape. But just as pornography makes it harder for men to connect with non-silicone enhanced wives, erotica makes it harder for us to connect with our real live husbands. Life is not a Cinderella story. In marriage you’ve got to do the hard work of negotiating who does the dishes and who balances the checkbook and whose turn is to use the steam vac to clean up after the carsick child. And here’s the deal: the real thing is so much better than the fantasy. Want to know what romance looks like? It’s a husband who’s faithful. Who brings you honeycrisp apples because he knows they’re your favorite. Who changes the diapers, rocks the babies, feeds the dogs, and yes–takes the steam vac to the car when necessary. It’s a man who loves Jesus and loves you and isn’t ashamed of either. Maybe it’s not the the stuff epic romances are written about, but it’s real and it’s solid and it lasts. And I wouldn’t trade it for a daydream.

I’m not watching because God has better for me.

Yeah, I’m skipping the movie. But I’m not missing out on anything. Mr. Grey can keep his 50 Shades. I serve the God who spoke the galaxies into motion. I have been redeemed by the precious blood of Jesus and I live for his glory. I want what God has for me, and I’m not willing to settle for anything less. Who needs grey when you’ve got glory?

Couple things: If you’ve read 50 Shades and want to get rid of your books, Danna Gresh and Julie Slattery will give a free copy of their book, Pulling Back the Shades to anyone who sends in their copy of 50 Shades of Grey. Their book is a short but highly beneficial read and they address many of the questions raised by the 50 Shades craze in a series of videos on their website. If you’ve got questions or want to know how to respond to friends who have been reading the series, it’s a great resource.



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What Do These Stones Mean?

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My head is going to explode if I get one more user name and password to remember. Facebook. Twitter. Email. Bank account. Phone company. Health insurance. Doctor’s office. Every single company you buy anything from ever wants you to create a unique user name and password so they can keep track of you and “streamline your shopping experience.” Ha. How about this: if I want you to remember me, I’ll create an account. Otherwise I’m good re-entering my information every time I shop with you. Really.

It’s not just passwords. I don’t know how many times I’ve dragged the kids into the grocery store and come out with a cart full of groceries–minus the one thing I actually went in there to buy. Earlier this week I got my morning snack all ready, turned around to answer a child’s question, and never looked back. I found my snack siting where I’d left it an hour later. I’d forgotten to eat it. We’re busy, we get distracted, and things just slip our minds. Things like

It happens. We’re busy, we get distracted, and things slip our minds. Things like the load of laundry you washed and left sitting in the washer for three days. Not that I’ve ever done that. Today. I haven’t done it today.

Maybe I should just go check.

Yeah, we all forget things now and then. But there are some things we must remember.

In Joshua 3, we find the Hebrew people poised to cross into the promised land. One problem: the Jordan river lies between them Canaan. Joshua has the people set out toward the river with the priests and the ark leading the way. As the priest step into the Jordan’s swirling waters, God stops the waters so that they “piled up in a heap.” The people crossed across the Jordan on dry ground. Then, as the priests stood still in the dry riverbed, Joshua commanded one man from each of the 12 tribes to go choose a stone from the river.

So Joshua called together the twelve men he had appointed from the Israelites, one from each tribe, 5 and said to them, “Go over before the ark of the Lord your God into the middle of the Jordan. Each of you is to take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, 6 to serve as a sign among you. In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean? ‘ 7 tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever” (Joshua 4:4-7).

The crossing of the Jordan was a pivotal moment for the Israelites. The generation who had left Egypt had perished in exile during the 40 years of wilderness wanderings. There were probably a few who had childhood memories of the Red Sea crossing, but for most of the people the events of the Exodus fell in the realm of story, not experience. If they were to take the promised land, they needed their own experience with God. And they needed to remember.

Joshua had the people build the monument of stones as a sign for remembrance. It was meant to stir curiosity so children would ask questions and parents would be spurred to recount the story. It’s the same kind of thing that happens during the Lord’s Supper as we pass the bread down the row. “Mommy, what are you doing? What does this mean?” We remember that the Savior’s body was broken for us and we participate in the retelling.

We need our own piles of stones because we are prone to forget. We get so focused on the crisis of the present that we forget the provision of the past. God is faithful. His mercies are new every morning, and his lovingkindness does not fail. We need tangible portraits that remind us what the Lord has done, and we need symbols that spur curiosity in others so we can testify to what the Lord has done.

What is your pile of stones? Maybe it’s a stack of journals. Maybe it’s your chemo port scar. It could be the stack of cards you keep tied up in your desk, or the picture on your wall that somehow puts lines and shapes to a message engraved on your soul. Find those things. Treasure them. And remember.

For we must not forget what the Lord has done.

Q: What is your pile of stones? Tell us in the comments how you remember what God has done.



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New Year? Need Jesus.

I’m posting today at 5 Minutes for Faith!

My New Year’s resolution to eat less sugar crashed and burned in the candy aisle at 7-11. We’d been on the road for 10 hours. I was tired, the kids were cranky, we had another hour of drive time left to go, and that candy bar was doing the cha-cha and calling my name. I had earned that chocolate.

It was January 2.

Resolutions and goals are great, but they aren’t enough.  I can set the most specific, measurable, reachable goals in the world, but to see change I first have to change myself. Willpower, commitment, and accountability are important, but they don’t change who I am at the core. For that, I need something different.

I need someone different.

I need Jesus.

Read the rest and join the conversation at 5 Minutes for Faith.



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Rahab’s Moment of Decision

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Men knocked on Rahab’s door every night. She was a prostitute. Jericho was a walled city with its own military garrison. She didn’t lack for customers.  But this night was different.

Rahab had a choice to make.

The spies stood out. Everyone knew that Israel was camped just across the Jordan River. Stories flew, and Rahab stored up what she heard. The Israelite God had fought for them against Egypt, splitting the Red Sea so that they walked across on dry ground. The Egyptian army hadn’t been so lucky. Israel’s God had helped them defeat the Amorites. He had helped them through the wilderness, and now Israel stood on the banks of Jordan because their God had promised them a new land.

Israel’s God had promised his people the land of Canaan. And Rahab believed this God was strong enough to take it.

That night she knew the spies for who they were. Their clothes, their hair, their language. They weren’t local boys, that’s for sure. But they played a dangerous game. If they were caught, they were dead. And if she was caught with them, her neck was on the line too. When the soldiers pounded on the door, Rahab had to choose.

The soldiers brought a message from the king. They had seen the strangers. They knew who they were. They knew where they had been. They expected her to hand them over.

It was Rahab’s moment of decision. Two kings–one holding earthly power; one with all the power of heaven’s army behind him. Death and life were at stake–Rahab’s life; the life of the spies; the life of the soldiers. Hiding the spies was treason, punishable by death. Captured spies would be killed, and the men who failed to capture them might be. Handing them over meant Rahab would see another day. Protecting them might mean she could truly live.

Rahab chose life.

It was laughably easy. Bat her eyes, smile, innocent voice. “Oh those men? Sure they were here, but not now. I didn’t know where they were from. They left through the gate just as it shut. If you hurry you might catch them.” The soldiers headed out of the city, the gates shut behind them, and Rahab had two enemy spies hidden under piles of flax on her roof. The escape route was clear.

Now to make sure the spies knew where her allegiance lay. She knew that Israel’s God was God; that he had given his people the land. She knew that all her people trembled in fear. Oh Canaan had its own gods, sure. But this Yahweh God outranked them all. She was sure of that. She stopped short of declaring Yahweh to be the one true God, but she took her leap of faith with both feet. Rahab didn’t trust her safety to Jericho’s king. She put her fate in the hands of the king of heaven and earth.

Rahab chose to live.

She didn’t have much to hang her hopes on. Just a spy’s promise and a thin scarlet cord. When the Israelites encircled the city, Rahab gathered her family inside her home and threw the cord out the window. The walls shook and the city fell. Rahab’s house stood firm. She lived. Her family lived. Rahab, the Caananite prostitute, found her place among the people of God.

Rahab married an Israelite man named Salmon. Rahab and Salmon had a baby boy they named Boaz. The apple didn’t fall far from the tree. Boaz married a Moabite woman named Ruth (and did she have a story). Boaz and Ruth had a son who had a son whose youngest boy was named David. King David, that is. And many generations later, one of David’s descendants had a baby in the little town of Bethlehem.

She named him Jesus.

Rahab’s story challenges me because she traded all she knew for an unknown God. Safety, security, the life she knew–they were nothing compared to the draw of God’s undeniable power. She chose to trust a God she only knew by reputation, and she grabbed hold of that cord of hope with both hands. God caught her, made her his own, and wove her into his tapestry of grace.

I hope I have a little Rahab in me. When my moment of decision comes, I choose to trust the God I know, who has saved me, redeemed me, and called me his own. The security and forces of this world beckon. But I choose adventure with the God of heaven and earth.

I choose life–and I want to live it abundantly.

 

5 Minutes for Faith



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Trust

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Trust falls are up there with Chubby Bunny as a perennial youth group activity. You stand on a ledge three or four feet above your friends, cross your hands over your chest, and fall backwards into their waiting arms. You know they’re going to catch you. They’ve caught everyone–even the 200 pound high school linebacker. But there’s still that moment as you stand there, arms crossed, palms sweating, and prepare to fall. What if they don’t catch me this time? It’s always there–just that hint of fear; the whisper of insecurity. You fall anyway.

They catch you. And you start learning that stepping out in trust means risking the fall.

My word for 2015 is trust. Hope turned out to be oddly appropriate for 2014, so I’m a little apprehensive over trust being the word that keeps floating up as I’ve prayed over choosing my word the last couple weeks. (Could be worse–it could have been patience. Ha!). For whatever reason, trust is the word that God keeps bringing to mind–and I trust that he has his reasons.

As I’ve been working through my concordance, Psalm 9:10 is the verse that has really popped for me:

Those who know your name will put their trust in you. For You, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek you. (Psalm 9:10)

Those who know your name will put their trust in you. In the Bible, names often reflect something of a person’s character. Abraham means “father of nations.” Joshua means “The Lord is my salvation.” Barnabas means “Son of Encouragement.” Over and over again in Scripture we see that when God wants to reveal something about himself, he reveals his name to his people.

Hagar knew him as “The God Who Sees Me.” Abraham knew him as “The Lord Who Provides.” During the Exodus God revealed himself as “The Lord Who Heals,” “The Lord My Banner,” and “The Lord who Sanctifies You.” Jeremiah knew him as “The Lord our Righteousness;” Isaiah called him “The Holy One of Israel” and prophesied about the day he would be known as Immanuel–God with us. Knowing God’s name meant experiencing his character.

Knowing God’s name requires us to experience his character in the same way. Hagar learned God’s name when she was wandering the wilderness, pregnant and alone. Abraham learned God’s name in a moment of desperate obedience. It was during the heat of battle that Moses learned our God is the banner of victory. It is in our own moments of isolation, desperation, and conflict that we are stretched to learn to trust God in new ways. He appears in the midst of our struggle and declares his name as he delivers us, and it is in those moments that we learn to trust.

We often ask the wrong questions in those crisis moments. We want to know “Why me?” “How could this happen?” “What’s coming next?” We need to learn to ask “who.” God, who do you want to be to me in this moment? What name do you want me to claim? How do you want to reveal yourself to me in these circumstances? Ask, look, and wait expectantly, for our God never forsakes those who seek him.

So that’s my theme for this year–trust. Trusting God. Trusting others. Trusting myself. And looking for who God wants to be to me this season as I learn to grow in trust.

What’s your word for 2015?



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Advent: The Season of Preparation

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There were 400 years of silence between the Old Testament and the New.

400 years where God did not speak. 400 years with no angels, no prophets–only the promise of hope to cling to. For Narnia it was always winter but never Christmas. Our world slumbered in spiritual darkness–always night but never dawn. Till one day the sun started to glimmer over the horizon–Aslan was on the move and God was getting ready to redeem his people.

But first God had to prepare his people. They needed a messenger who would shake them awake and remind them to be on the lookout so they didn’t miss the Savior.

It was a season of preparation, and God started with Elizabeth and Zechariah

Zechariah was a priest and Elizabeth, his wife, was also from a priestly family. They were righteous, faithful, and obedient. But their faithfulness had not been without hardship. They were faithful, they were old, and they were childless. Elizabeth was barren. Luke takes only a sentence to convey a lifetime of sorrow: “Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were well advanced in years.” Months of hope gave way to years of grief and finally a sorrowful acceptance. They were well advanced in years, and it had been a long time since Father Abraham. Yet they remained faithful despite their sorrow, and God–whose timing is always perfect–had not forgotten their prayers.

God shattered 400 years of silence with an angel’s voice. Zechariah was chosen by lot to offer incense before the altar of the Lord in the temple–something that only happened once in a priest’s lifetime. There, alone in the stillness with the heavy cloud of perfumed smoke swirling about him, Zechariah was startled by Gabriel’s sudden appearance. Gabriel’s message was simple: God has heard your prayers. Elizabeth will have a child. You will name him John, and many will rejoice at his birth. John would not be the Messiah, but he had a role to play. He was the forerunner–the one who would prepare the people for the Savior.

The last word God speaks in the Old Testament are the first words he speaks in the New. Before Messiah comes, God will send a prophet “in the spirit and power of Elijah” who would make the way ready for the King. Like Elijah, John called the people to repentance. Repentance is a realigning of our hearts where we turn from our sin and toward the Savior. It is an active choice in which we reject darkness and align ourselves with the kingdom of Light. In repentance we say no to sin and yes to God, and repentance always prepares us for what God is going to do.

Zechariah stammered around and asked for a sign (as if an angelic message wasn’t sign enough). His sign was the gift of silence. 9 months of waiting and watching in silence. 9 months of putting it all together; of silently witnessing as Elizabeth’s cousin Mary came to visit and his wife broke out into joyous song when Mary entered the room. Little Mary, the mother of the Lord? Could it be? But even his unborn child recognized what Zechariah could hardly believe. God himself had chosen to enter the world through the unlikely vehicle of a virgin’s womb, and Zechariah’s baby would prepare the way for the Savior’s coming. The silence was over. God was moving among his people proving his mercy once again. They had lived in darkness, but God was sending light. And little John would herald the Savior’s coming.

The Lion of Judah was on the move, and it was time to get ready.

In Advent, we also prepare ourselves for the Savior’s coming. Like Zechariah and Elizabeth, we cultivate faithfulness so we are ready when God begins to move among his people. We practice repentance, tuning our hearts to hear the footsteps of our Lord. And we prepare by being watchful, looking to see where God is moving so we can join him in his work. Christmas, after all, was only the beginning. The Lion of Judah is still on the move, eagerly seeking those who will worship him. When he roars, will we be ready to answer? Christmas is about welcoming Jesus. Is your heart ready to receive him?

How are you spiritually preparing yourself this Advent season?



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