Hold on!

"It's cancer."

"Your job is about to be terminated."

"I want out of this marriage!"

"Sir, I'm from the highway patrol. I'm here about your son..."

Life-altering tragedy usually arrives encased in a simple sentence. Crushing heartache doesn't fit into human terminology. How can simple alphabet letters cut like that? But they do.

And it's worse if you've been forwarned. You know it's coming. You brace for it or try to hide from it. Terror stalks your nights as you try to imagine getting through it.

When Jesus spoke to the church at Smyrna, in Revelation 2, He was giving them a heads-up about what had already started and would get worse. He clears away any doubt when he tells them "I know you are suffering and it will get worse." But he doesn't stop there.

"It won't last long and if you hang in there with Me, I will shower you with rewards!"

If you've ever been in labor, you can more easily understand this. As bad as it is, and as long as it may take, there is still hope. You know it won't last forever and when it's over, the joy of holding your child will blot out what you just went through.

We need to look at our troubles that way. At the time, they seem to last forever. In the midst of the pain, we cannot remember peace. While treading murky waters, we cannot remember dry ground. Was there ever a time I didn't feel like this? Will our life ever be normal again?

Jesus offers hope to his precious ones who are suffering for His sake, in what often feels like pointless trauma. It's not pointless. He knows every groan you've muffled, every tear you shed. And He's cheering for you. It's necessary testing. Those who refuse to bear up under it are not His. He is cleaning house, ridding the churches of those hangers-on who only show up for the free food.

And the reward He offers for enduring temporary suffering will so far outshine the pain we won't even remember it. Even death shouldn't scare us because He's waiting on the other side to hold us, wipe our tears away, and shower us with rewards for being faithful.

"Hold on! It won't last long," is His cry from the stands. "You can do it. I did it for you."

So no matter what you're going through right now, no matter how bleak this New Year may appear, and no matter how painful it is at the moment, hang on. Remain faithful to the One who called you.

If you are His, He is yours. And He sent you a message to encourage you: "You can overcome even this. I showed you how. I'm here with you and I reward loyalty."


Got Resolutions?

Have you started your list yet?

You know, the obligatory list of New Year's resolutions-- which is just another way of saying your motivation for change is so low you've got to pin it on a calendar date.

Or did you give up the whole idea a long time ago? Too frustrating. Too overwhelming. Too much defeat and you don't need another reason to beat yourself up.

But if you were going to make a change this year....just sayin'...you know, playing "what if'?

What would it be?

Did your mind rush straight to the scales? I'll bet losing weight is on nine out of ten resolution lists this year. Why? Why are we so preoccupied with carrying all that extra weight, while continuing the very actions that keep us that way?

I believe the reason you remain in the "hefty" category is because it doesn't really bother you that badly. You just think it should. You've memorized the list of health reasons, heard your mother nag about it until it rings in your ears, and frowned at your widening girth in the mirror...yet you do nothing to change it.

Going up a pants' size is a small price to pay for the comfort of that extra box of cookies. And the thought of cutting back on Big Macs produces a pain greater than heartburn. The fact is, you got yourself this way and it's grown comfortable. Regardless of what you may say to the contrary, you're not ready to give it up.

I won't even mention that gluttony is a sin, because that's not what this post is about.
Fooled you, huh?

No, I'd rather you make the short mental leap with me to the other shady areas of your life where you've grown too comfortable. You've heard the preacher say they're harmful to you, you've felt the pangs of guilt when you indulge, and you've frowned at yourself every time your half-hearted attempt to change fizzles. But the truth is, you don't care that much.
We do things because they work for us. They may not work well, or for long, but they are meeting some need so we keep at it, even if in the process we are destroying the very peace and joy we long for. Habits, addictions, attitudes, friendships...the list is infinite. There are a million and one ways we can mess up the victorious life God planned for us, and we seem to discover most of them before we've even left our teens.
The problem is we load ourselves down with so many homemade attempts to satisfy our longings that it quickly becomes too much to carry. We stagger under the bundles we're afraid to let go of. Our souls are more overweight than our bodies. Hearts made of concrete, consciences laden with guilt, and backpacks so stuffed with shame we can barely lift our heads. Yet, we cling to it all as though we were designed to be beasts of burden.
We skip right over that delicious promise of Jesus in the book of Matthew: "Come unto Me, all you who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."
God knows you're overweight and He offers a reducing plan you won't find anywhere on late-night TV. His solution? "Give it to Me."
Yep, it's that easy. You were not created to bear those burdens alone and God offers to do it for you. But you have to let go first. You have to accept that those giant bags of trash you're carting around cannot meet your needs. You have to give them to Him. In exchange, he offers you a lightweight carry-on, packed with everything you need for this trip on earth.
So maybe you DO need a list this New Years. It only needs to include one item:
  • Give junk to God.

Merry Christmas

The politically correct Baby-in-the-manger grew up to be a politically-incorrect Savior for an undeserving world.

"O Come Let Us Adore Him" the other 364 days of the year.

May your Christmas and the coming year be filled with the joy of knowing Him as Savior!


Are You Wasted?

What a waste!

A highly-anticipated and heavily funded program that didn't reap the results we anticipated.

The dynamic pastor of a mega church resigns to pastor a mission church in Africa.

Seem like a waste?

We don't like to admit it, but we apply worldly standards of success to God's work as well.

Aren't they the same thing?

Not exactly.

We'd like them to be. In fact, if any one of us had been standing with the disciples that day when Mary broke her expensive vial of perfume and poured it over Jesus, we'd have joined right in with the murmuring. "Why'd she do that? She could've done so much good with it! What a waste of perfectly good money. It should have been put to better use. We need to appoint a committee to address wasteful jar-breaking practices." (Matt. 26)

And most of us thrifty-minded Americans would fully expect Jesus to agree. With kindness, yes, but still agree. He should have thanked Mary, given her a hug, and gently explained that next time she might think more carefully before wasting herself on Him with such extravagance.

But that's not what He did and His answer often leaves the rest of us scratching our heads and feeling embarrassed that we still disagree.

In fact, He drove the point home even more firmly when he told them that everywhere the Gospel was preached, her story would go with it.

Every wonder why? Why THIS story over all the other amazing events that happened wherever he went?

The secret is in the word "wasted." When we apply the world's standards to this incident, the perfume was, in fact, severely wasted. It was wasted money. It was a waste of Mary's future income. Women in those days didn't have access to luxurious treasures like that very often. Once it was gone, it was gone. No chance to put it on Ebay. No garage sales. No Antiques Roadshow host would offer her a shocking fortune for it. It was gone, puddled on the floor, dripping off the hair of the one she considered worthy of such an offering.

The disciples totally missed the point, even after Jesus explained it. But we don't have to.

Jesus told them that this story would be told hand-in-hand with the Gospel--because it IS the Gospel.

Jostling crowds followed this preacher from Nazareth from shore to shore, eager for a front-row seat to the show. They wanted healing, wanted demons cast out, wanted fed, wanted hope. But what did they bring? Who among them brought Jesus anything?

Salvation is a gift to us from God, but it is NOT free. We present the message often as though it was free, as in "free gift with every purchase!" There was a terribly high price to pay for rebellious Man to experience God's forgiveness and Jesus knew he was about to pay it. And at that moment in history, Mary was the only one who caught on.

Her act of emptying her priceless jar perfectly symbolized what Jesus had been telling them all along, but they were too dazzled by the miracles and free food to hear it. "If anyone would come after me, let him take up his cross daily and follow me."

God's gift is more than an offering. It's really an exchange. We can't keep what we have and gain what He offers. He offers to exchange his riches in glory for our ragged robes. His righteousness for our sin. His everlasting life for our pathway to destruction. It's not until we are willing to empty ourselves of our own willfulness that we can accept that gift.

Until we are willing to waste ourselves and all we have on Jesus, we aren't worthy of him. And He cannot fill us with himself when we are already filled with ourselves.

Wasted on Jesus. It's not possible. God keeps excellent accounts and nothing is wasted that is given to Him. We cannot know the peace, the joy, the fulfillment that God has for us until, like Mary with her alabaster jar, we have totally wasted ourselves on Him.


Don't Give Me a Band Aid

Oh, not again!

Why me?

Bad stuff always happens to me!

I'm willing to bet you've said every one of those. We tend to magnify the things that don't go our way and ignore the millions of situations and events that do turn out the way we want them to.

BAD usually gets all the attention.

As Christians, we go a step further. We often try to help matters by overusing a little promise in Romans. We treat the Scripture verse like a topical ointment. And we're right in one sense. When applied correctly, it brings strength and healing. But when slathered on incorrectly, it irritates and causes bitterness. It's best used on yourself, rather than try to treat someone else in the moment of pain.

The verse is found in Romans 8:28 "All things work together for the good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose."

The grieving mother looks at her dead child. The unemployed man shakes his head at his last paycheck. The pregnant teenager feels her swollen belly and turns her face away.

No drowning victim wants to hear a chirpy Bible verse from someone on dry land. One look at your situation and you know in your heart that there is no way this is good. You may not admit it. You may smile and nod, as though the promise applied to you-- but you know it doesn't. God skipped over you this time.

What is not stressed in that verse is the little word "together."

Ever tasted cocoa straight from the box? What does baking powder taste like? How about dry flour? Good? Hardly. But when mixed together and baked just right, the cake is delicious.

God is telling us in Romans that even though what happened to you may be horrible, it doesn't stand alone in your life. Not all events are good, so we don't have to pretend they are. Pain is pain. Disappointment, heartache, and shock are real and God never intended to slap a happy band aid over your hurt with this verse.

Instead he is promising that if you stick with him through it, He'll stick with you. He'll take those raw ingredients that make up your life and bake them just right. He'll weave purpose through all the seemingly random events and bring a good from it you never considered.

The problem we have is looking at each event as a separate issue, as though not connected to the rest of our lives. God doesn't see it that way. He views you as a work-in-progress, as He did with original creation. As each created entity came into being He said, "It is good." It wasn't finished, but He already saw how good it was going to become.

Our lives are not finished either. As each event unfolds, we have a choice.

We can rant and rave, angry at a God who should have made this turn out better. Or we can be still and listen for the voice that says, "It is good" and trust that it will work together with everything else to bring about the greatest purpose in our lives..

Royal Wedding

The Prince of Wales and Queen Elizabeth II cordially invite you to attend the royal wedding ceremony of Prince William to Miss Catherine Middleton.
The Queen invites you to stay at Buckingham Palace for as long as you desire. All accommodations and arrangements for your enjoyment are provided by the royal family.
Did you get one of those invitations this week?
You didn't?
Well, neither did I. But if I had, I would already be shopping for the trip. What do you wear to a royal wedding? And a stay at Buckingham? Whoo-wee...I wouldn't need coaxing, cajoling, or extra incentives to sign on. I recognize a golden opportunity when I see it.
Most rational people would quickly accept an invitation like that and feel humbled with gratitude to be invited. After all, we're just commoners. We're nothing special. So to be called out, selected for grandeur for no reason at all sounds like a fairy tale.
Just such an invitation has been sent from the Royal Family of Heaven with your name on it. The invitation alone should be enough to send adrenaline racing through your system. Me? You're kidding! I'm invited? But why? I haven't done anything worthy of that.
That SHOULD be the response, but oddly enough the same guy who would drop everything to attend Prince William's wedding barely lifts a brow at the invitation to Christ's wedding. And that one lasts for eternity.
Instead, we find well-meaning preachers of the Gospel peddling those invitations as though they had to meet a quota or be fired. "C'mon, don't you wanna be saved? We'll throw in a pizza party, camp once a year, and a get-out-of-Hell-free card. So whaddya say?"
The solid gold invitation from God is often reduced by well-meaning evangelists to a plastic-covered trinket, such as the street-hawkers will sell all over London commemorating the royal event for $5.99.
"Get your party invitations here, folks! Come see what God can do for you! Yes sir, step right up and dial-a-prayer! Watch God turn your dreams into reality right before your eyes. With this little prayer you can have your own god right in your pocket. Take Him with you wherever you go. Brings you luck!"
Of course you won't hear those exact words from the pulpit. I hope. But sadly, the message is coming through anyway. We no longer consider ourselves "sinners in the hands of an angry God" as Jonathan Edwards proclaimed with such incredible results. We prefer a sermon entitled "pretty good folks shaking hands with a jovial god." And what's sadder still, is that many are signing on having no idea that they've just bought a plastic trinket rather than the real thing.
Jesus said, "Wide is the road that leads to destruction, but narrow is the path that leads to life and not many will find it." The life Jesus meant was one that requires repentance. A change of direction. A turning away from seeking my way to seeking His face, His righteousness, until He calls me home.
Mention that to one of the new "converts" and you'll likely get a response like this: "Righteousness? Ooo...no thanks. I didn't know righteousness was part of the bargain. I just wanted the free stuff."
God has already sent your invitation (see Sidebar). It's enough in itself. No gimmicks. No trinkets. No cheap lures. It requires everything you have in exchange for everything God has. Not a fair trade, but it was His idea.
And what's more, you won't need to shop or pack. That's provided too!

Hey, Babe

She's supposed to be an outside watchdog.
Clearly, she's not outside and... does this face scare you?
If the burglars would be so kind as to wear bird suits and pretend to fly, she'd be a force to contend with. Otherwise, she's about as useful as a parka in Tahiti.
Knowing that our multi-purpose mutt, Spunky, was near permanent retirement, we got Babe to replace him outside. Spunky has been a 15-year barking machine and no criminal with half a brain would challenge his backyard. Living in the country, we feel safer with a barking dog outside at night. Preferably one who could tell the difference between a criminal and a squirrel. But Babe...well, let's just say that intelligence isn't everything. And courage is overrated.
She gets lonely at night. She's scared of the dark. And anyone approaching the yard might be a potential friend, so she'd hate to offend.
She slinks around with a guilty look on her face and if we so much as raise our voices in laughter, she rushes to confess her crime. She obviously has emotional issues dating back to puppyhood, with which we were in no way involved. She was 3 years old when we got her, so any neurosis is NOT our fault.
Things don't always turn out like we plan.
Spunky is still kicking. Babe lives in the house and only barks to be let in. She worships our two boys with a passion almost eerie, and every stranger is greeted with slobbering devotion. The shedding which I'd carefully avoided with my Maltese is now a regular part of life and we still don't have a replacement watchdog.
Sometimes we do things for one reason and the result is nothing like we expected. We roll with the punches, make lemonade, or whatever cliche you choose to use. The best part is God's promise that He will make everything turn out for the good, if we love Him. The darkest night, the deepest sorrow, the biggest hurdle---it doesn't matter. When it is God's, He can twist ugly twine into a beautiful bow.
"What would we do without Babe?" my youngest son asked as he wrapped his arms around her patient neck.
Before I could start my list, he hugged her tight. "One look at that face, Mom, and you can't stay mad at her no matter what she did."
I swept more red hair off the floor and watched them, boy and dog, lying together on the floor, content just being side by side. We don't have a watchdog, but my son has a friend. A responsibility. A practice in patience for parenthood some day.
He's right. What would we do without Babe? And what would we do without all those unexpected twists and turns life hands us? Those valleys that end in mountaintops. Those detours that take us past undiscovered beauty. All those opportunities for God to take our snarled balls of twine and make bows out of them.
What's the Babe in your world? That situation that didn't turn out like you thought it would. The decision. The detour. The upside-down, out-of-the-blue shock?
Let God have it. One day you will look back on it and find yourself saying, "What would I do without it?"