Prepare Him Room

Prepare Him RoomGod has always been concerned with the appropriate display of His glory.

The detailed design and construction of the tabernacle and the temple in the Old Testament were all about displaying the amazing glory of God. Consider the words of David in 1 Chronicles 22:5:

The house that is to be built for the LORD must be exceedingly magnificent, of fame and glory throughout all the lands.

When the temple was finished, we’re told that the glory of the LORD filled the LORD’s house visibly. (2 Chr 7:2)

The temple, as the focus of God’s glory, was significant to the Israelites. God knew this. In preparing for the coming of Jesus Christ, God spoke through Haggai, saying that the glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house (2:9). And that it is through this house (Christ) that peace will come.

Christ used this symbolism in speaking of His death and resurrection when He told the Pharisees that they could destroy the temple, and in three days He would raise it up again (John 2:19). The temple, of course, was His body, the exact representation of God (Heb 1:3).

Thousands of years later God’s glory is still meant to be seen in and through the place He dwells. Since the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, and the coming of the Holy Spirit, that dwelling place is every believer. Our bodies are now the temples where God, through the Holy Spirit, lives and breathes and exerts his will.

We are His workmanship. He has created us in Christ Jesus for good works. (Eph. 2:10) We are a spiritual house being built up as a holy priesthood (1 Peter 2:5). He has clothed us with righteousness and salvation (Isa 61:10).

If God was concerned how a building built by human hands reflected His glory, how much more is He concerned with how we, His personal dwelling place, reflect His glory?

This Christmas let’s “prepare him room.”  What needs to be restored, or removed in your life so that the glory of God, through the Holy Spirit, can be resident, unhindered in the earthly tabernacle of your heart?

I confess my fear of disappointment holds me back from embracing his presence fully, and especially from connecting my heart with other believers in unity.

We love the church because we love Jesus who fills the church with himself, the glory of God. Is God’s glory visible in your life, attitude, worship, and your relationships with fellow believers?

This Christmas season, in this chaotic world, people are looking for peace on earth, goodwill to men. It begins with the glory of God alive in us.

Being Modern Day Messengers of Joy – An Advent Reading

AdventOne night in Bethlehem, against the backdrop of the world’s sorrow, joy broke through the darkness, taking everyone by surprise. Angels exploded into the night sky, shocking a rag tag group of shepherds minding their flocks. Israel labored under Roman oppression. The world groaned under the tyranny of sin and injustice. But good news had come!

That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.” Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying. “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.” Luke 2:8-14

The world today is full of fear. Not unlike that night 2,000 years ago. War, conflict, and oppression was as real then as it is now. No one needs to be told how hard life is. We know it. And Jesus is more aware of that reality than anyone.

The contrast of going from a perfect heavenly home, to this messy broken one must have assaulted his senses. But he was willing, for the great joy it would bring him, to come and rescue us.

People all around us are in need of messengers to say, “Don’t be afraid. There is good news, even reason for great joy.” A Savior, who meets us in our pain, our brokenness, our despair, has come. Great need, met with saving grace, produces great joy.

Are you a modern day messenger of joy?

God has given us a message to share with our neighbors and family, our coworkers and friends. We celebrate, as the angels did so long ago, the gift of goodwill to all people that God has given. His Son. A cause for great joy!

Let’s pray:
Father, thank you for giving your best gift to the likes of us. We are humbled. Remind us again of our need for you and the joy we first felt when we realized you had met that need. Make us joyful messengers of good news. Amen.

When you get the spiritual flu

StainedglassBoy, I wish I had it all together. Can you relate? For years my biggest fear has been one of exposure. I’ve learned to fight that fear with honesty. I don’t tend to hold myself back from saying what I think or feel or have experienced. But still, some days, I take stock of my life, look around at my surroundings, and I cringe.

I’ve got to confess, well I might not need to but I’m going to, it is very humbling to be 38 and living in someone else’s borrowed apartment. For the last few weeks months I’ve been squirming with how I feel about where I am in life.

To be perfectly honest this has been the hardest move yet, at least in my married life. And boys howdy I’ve moved a lot, so that’s saying something! (Twenty three times, since my birth, if you count the times we’ve lived with people for a few months here and there.)

There is something that that kind of transience does to your heart. I don’t particularly like it. In Alabama the main reason we bought a house was because Chris and I wanted to stay put. We believe ministry happens best when you invest over the long term in relationships. We wanted to communicate, “we’re here for better or worse.”

But it didn’t work that way. Less than a year of home ownership and we were looking for a new church. A record for us, the shortest amount of time we’ve ever stayed in a church. I was ticked. Ticked!

Is that really how God repays faithfulness? (I’m often a lot like my ancestors the Israelites, I blow right past the opportunity to say “thanks for being an amazing God who always provides” and right to complaining!) I’m not sorry we moved to Toccoa. The leadership opportunity for Chris is amazing. He’s a great fit. The church family is warm and wonderful and vibrant. I love Georgia.

But it stings to lose a home you love, neighbors you care about, friends who have become family, to be pulled up by the roots you tried so desperately to grow. I don’t know what it’s like to have my kids grow up with friends. Max has gone to a different school in every grade! He’s in fifth.

And let’s don’t even mention my mama. Watching someone you love go through the ugly of cancer is not easy. God has put his finger on all my important things – home, security, family.

So honestly this last six months has felt like a ginormous bout of the spiritual flu. It’s not over. But it’s getting better. I guess this is me pulling the mask off and saying that while it’s embarrassing to be 38 and not have it together, I’m really learning to be okay with that.

One thing God is teaching me from all of this wandering is that he is determined that I will depend on him. And we all know dependence isn’t glamorous. So while I may have wished my life would have looked different, really I choose his way because I need more of Jesus than more of me.

So if I look at you cross eyed, or burst into tears, please don’t take it personally. I am ragged and worn. I’m still trying to get over the spiritual flu. Maybe you can identify. Maybe God has shown himself faithful through tough times but the reality in your life is times have indeed been tough. Here’s the most important thing I know about the spiritual flu; it matters what you recite.

A steady diet of negative self talk will run us right into the ground. During times of loss or challenge it’s easy to feel like life’s against us, that God has forgotten us. If we recite our lossess and fears we will dig ourselves into a pit.

After their dramatic rescue from slavery in Egypt God told the children of Israel, “But watch out! Be careful never to forget what you yourself have seen. Do not let these memories escape from your mind as long as you live! And be sure to pass them on to your children and grandchildren.” (Deuteronomy 4:9)

God knows we are quick to forget the Red Sea partings in our life and get stuck in the deserts that at times stretch out before us. His instruction never to forget what you yourself have seen is as timely to us today as it was to the Israelites in their day.

God’s word is full of truth for us to recite about who God is, what he has promised, and what we can hope for in him. And if we’ve walked with God any length of time we should have memories of what we’ve seen the Lord do in our lives that we can remember. I know I do!

What are you reciting? Are you counting your losses or are you remembering what God has done? I guarantee reciting what God has done is good for what ails you!

Serving Advent

Advent-poinsettaI remember walking away from college with my head stuffed full of dreams, but already disillusionment had set in. I looked around me and thought “these wild boy-men are going to be our pastors, teachers, fathers, leaders? Good grief we’re in trouble.” Now, years later, I’m amazed. Beautiful, powerful things have happened in the places we’ve all lived and moved and related.

As young people we think we will change the world, and we’re right. We will change the world. But not until we first suffer. Not until we first find brokenness. And the world won’t change in the way we had imagined.

For me, a dose of real life buffed off the rough edges and moved me from a crusader to a servant. As a young person I was afraid of being a servant. There was no glory or honor in servant-hood. I couldn’t imagine living a monotonous life of anonymity. Servant-hood frightened me.

I needed this Sunday’s reminder from Zechariah’s prophecy that we find our purpose as we serve:

“We have been rescued from our enemies
    so we can serve God without fear,
in holiness and righteousness
    for as long as we live.” Luke 1:74-75

My heart was thirsty for those words. Even after years of serving fear can creep in. Sometimes I fear the monotony of servant-hood, the cost of it, the misunderstanding that can come with serving, or the indignity. My husband and I have never served a church body that hasn’t at some point cost us or caused us pain. In some instances great pain. As we begin a new ministry our eyes are wide open. We’re under no illusions of grandeur. Serving is hard work. It’s also an inexpressible honor and brings deep joy. Ultimately, there is nothing to fear when we serve with Christ.

Can you relate? Maybe you’ve served in church ministry. Or maybe you serve your family, your community, or your country. Serving people, in Jesus name, is something we do in all walks of life.

As Advent draws nearer it’s timely to reflect on the purpose of Christ’s coming. He came to set us apart, in holiness and righteousness, for service to God. Selfish living leads to restlessness, and heartache. But servant-hood opens the gateway to peace.

In the Sunday school I’ve begun attending I’m one of only a handful of people under 40. And I love it! Every Sunday I’m reminded that many people have served God without fear for years before me. I take great courage in their testimony of God’s faithfulness.

The Advent of Jesus’ coming, to set us free from the enemy of sin, is a gift to us. The world had waited expectantly for his arrival. Now Jesus waits expectantly for our hearts to respond to his gift with one of our own, the gift of service. In gratitude we serve God, without fear, set apart in holiness.

Our service speaks of our gratitude and our expectation of Jesus’ second coming. As we serve we make ourselves ready.

So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son.” John 1:14

A Benediction

Just last week we sat in a living room filled with living, breathing giants. Five retired missionary couples among them. And while I’m sure they are merely human and bleed like the rest of us, extreme discipleship in unfamiliar lands has certainly shaped their lives.

We had joined them for their evening study, and at the same time we were waiting for the text that would tell us if we were linking arms with these saints, and their fellow brothers and sisters, or not. They knew we were waiting. I listened for the buzz, and may have unknowingly held my breath.

It came, a unanimous vote of welcome. We smiled, they congratulated, and then those muscular Christians, so long tested in battle and faith, gave us a gift. They sang.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow

Praise him all creatures here below

Praise him above ye heavenly host

Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

Praise him indeed! Their uplifted voices bathed us with grace, healing wounds, offering a benediction.

Chris and I are learning, still, how to run our race. I couldn’t be more thrilled to have the helping hands of those who have labored long and intimately understand the journey. I pray that the gift of that benediction, those words of praise, will sharply mark our years in our new church home. As much prophesy as praise. I pray that every moment would be seen as a blessing flowing from God, that our voices would join in praise with creatures above and below, that we would worship, fellowship with, and serve Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Mostly I pray that our daily lives would be a doxology, a benediction poured out over the body of Jesus.

We will stumble and disappoint, our humanity always catches up to us. But I trust in those moments there will be grace given and received, like a benediction prayed over one another’s lives.

Whose feet are you washing with your grace, whose life are cheering with songs of praise?

In the next few weeks our family needs to sell a house, pack our belongings, find a new place to live, say goodbye, and settle our kids in school. We would love for you to join us in prayer for God’s provision and grace in these matters.

Journey to Joy

Journey to JoyJourney’s End

Here we are, standing on the threshold of joy come down, one more sleep until Christmas. Looking back at joy, looking forward to joy.

If you’re at all like me the past year has held it’s fair share of triumphs and defeats. Even the delightful moments have had a hint of weariness to them.

The advent of Jesus brought joy to the now, but I’m reminded the joy is incomplete. I’m glad I know that secret, it makes the long days bearable. In this way we’re so like our brothers, the ancient Israelites, who longed for Messiah. We still find ourselves longing. Longing to see the promise. The come One, still coming.

Jesus original advent fills us with celebration, and anticipation of his coming again overshadows the celebration with hope.

The fourth key to joy:

 The hope of fulfilled promises brings joy

You will show me the way of life, granting me the joy of your presence and the pleasures of living with you forever. Psalm 16:11

For years, probably since my first breath, I’ve ached with what could only be called homesickness. But the ache is tempered by hope. Isn’t that the joy of all who know the truth, the hope of what’s to come casts golden rays over our hard journey towards the ultimate joy. When the news of illness, debt, betrayal comes the promise of no more tears or pain whispers “hold on, I’ll make it right in just a little while.”

When life’s pain stalks I sink my teeth into Revelation’s words, they never disappoint. “I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever. And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” Revelation 21:3-5

That’s joy worth hoping for!

But what about those who don’t know? Whose ache for a home is not eased by hope? Just like the dazzling messengers who burst on the scene centuries ago with shouts of good news of salvation we are hope bringers. For our neighbors, our co-workers, our family, it’s our privilege to tell of the joy we have now and the joy that’s coming.

Is your heart joyful?

I don’t know why but at Christmas the ache I feel for my eternal home intensifies. Maybe the groaning of this world clashes with the song of glory and creates a discordant melody. My year has been marked with orphans, injustice, cancer, broken relationships, and unrealized dreams. What about yours? No doubt you’ve felt the pull of this broken world.

But do you have joy?

Those painful moments can turn into a gift if we let them. Pointing us back to God’s word, back to the person of Jesus, back to the hope we hold on to – he’s coming. The contrast makes the reward that much sweeter.

I can’t think of Jesus’ second coming without thinking of childbirth. Romans 8 likens the world to a mother in the agony of childbirth, waiting for the birth of redemption, for the sons of earth to be revealed glorious.

I get that picture. No event has been more profound personally than the birth of my children. The days of waiting, knowing a baby is coming, growing in discomfort, wearying of the process. Then the pain, the terrible pain of labor, holding onto the good that’s coming. And in a final push of desperation – they’re here! Isn’t that true with us, we labor and wait, but we know Jesus is coming and it will be worth it!

Take it to heart

In the hectic moments of celebration I hope you will take a few moments to meditate on Psalm 16. What request does the psalmist make of God? Where does he say the good things in his life come from? What hope is the psalmist trusting in? What makes him rejoice? How does this psalm speak to your heart?

Let’s ask God to give us hearts of joy:

Father, we are so thankful for the first coming of your Son and the joy his gift of salvation brings. How can we even fathom such love! And we thank you for the promise that you’re not done giving good gifts. Thank you that salvation makes a way back home to your heart and presence forever. Thank you for the promise of all things made right, no more pain or sorrow, and eternity in your very presence. When life gets challenging in the year ahead help us to remember the hope that brings our hearts joy, Jesus is coming back and everything will be put right. We worship you this Christmas with hearts of joy! Amen.

I’ve learned a great deal about joy over the last weeks, I hope you have too. Thank you for journeying with me! I hope your heart will drink deeply of God’s presence and gift of joy this season. You can subscribe to my blog so you won’t miss future posts, and if you know someone who is looking for joy share this series with them, the more the merrier!

Journey to Joy

Journey to JoyA Journey Continues

If you’ve been traveling with me this Christmas season  in search of joy I’m thankful to have you as my companion. If you’re just joining in you can catch up here and here.

In this pretty season of peace on earth and the goodwill we tend to feel toward each other it’s pretty easy to forget we have the tendency to be a rebellious people.

The manger and the cross have dealt with our sin issues and have brought God near to us. Obedience keeps us there.

Have you ever wondered what if Mary had said no way to the angel when he showed up announcing her future as the mother to an illegitimate son, through means she couldn’t comprehend? What if Joseph had politely declined the assignment of parenting Jesus and protecting Mary? What if shepherds hadn’t seen the promise wrapped in flesh and spread the good news, or wise men had followed their own wisdom and not an inexplicable star? Each one of these very real people would have missed out on the joy of obedience, and the consequences would have influenced the joy of everyone else around them.

Could you have blamed any one of these people for declining God’s invitation to participate in his plan? They didn’t know what we know now. Their perspective was limited. God’s call to obedience always comes with enough information for us to act and with enough mystery for us to need to trust. Often our senses tell us one thing and God’s word and Spirit tell us another. What will we do?

Every one of these people had a good excuse, even a good reason, not to do what God asked of them. Regardless of their reasons they still would have missed out on joy if they chose not to obey.

The third key to joy:

Living in obedience to God and his word brings joy –

The commandments of the Lord are right, bringing joy to the heart. The commands of the Lord are clear, giving insight for living. Psalm 19:8

Maybe right now, in this Christmas season, you are faced with the same dilemma these people so long ago were faced with. Will you obey God’s calling, God’s word to you, in spite of circumstances? Will you be ethical even if your boss has taken advantage of you and you feel justified to help yourself to a little reward? Will you be faithful to your spouse even if the reality is they’re unkind, unpleasant, and even a down right jerk? Will you forgive even if you’ve been hurt through no fault of your own? Will you be generous even if your money is tight? Will you obey God?

The obedience God requests of us affects the lives of those around us, obedience is always lived out in the context of relationship. Another aspect of the joy of obedience includes responding to God’s goodness to us by being good to others. “Oh, the joys of those who are kind to the poor! The Lord rescues them when they are in trouble.” Psalm 41:1

Our goodness to others should never rest on their ability to return goodness to us, or be based on their worthiness. Our goodness to other people should be based completely on the goodness that we ourselves have received from God.

How do we have the power and wisdom to obey God? From understanding his word. If we want to live lives characterized by a happy obedience to God we must dedicate ourselves to understanding what the Bible says about who he is and who we are to be.

Is your heart joyful?

As a teenager I wrestled with regular devotional time. I reasoned that God would prefer my desire over my duty, and at that stage I didn’t desire reading the Bible as often as I should. While there may be some truth to my reasoning I soon learned that it was me that was paying the price for that logic. It affected my entire life. When I lost sight of the truth of God’s word my spiritual life developed a wobble, I was fretful – not joyful. I can’t explain the wonder of it, but when I devoted myself once again to the reading and understanding of God’s word my heart was glad, obedience characterized my life again.

Obedience isn’t easy. It means laying down what I want in exchange for what God wants. It means trusting that his way is best even if my senses and feelings tell me otherwise. The joy that follows when our behavior flows from trust in God and his ways isn’t of this world, it has a richness that rings of eternity.

Take it to heart

Take some time to meditate on Psalm 19 this week. What picture does the psalm paint of the God we obey? How does the psalmist describe God’s word? What is the relationship between a pure heart and God’s word? Why do you think the psalmist describes God’s creative work and word in the same psalm? As he concludes the psalm what is the writer’s request of God? Is it one your heart echos?

Let’s ask God to give us hearts of joy:

Father, sometimes it’s hard to obey you. We confess our tendency to follow our own wisdom instead of yours. But we want the joy that comes from living according to your word and not our own thinking. Would you give us hearts that are hungry to read your word and obey it. And would the joy you have when your children obey you fill our own hearts. We want to be people characterized by obedience and joy. And we trust that you will use our joy to draw others to you. Thank you for your word that guides our lives. Amen.

Thank you for joining me on this journey. I hope your heart will drink deeply of God’s presence and gift of joy this season. You can subscribe to my blog so you won’t miss future posts, and if you know someone who is looking for joy share this series with them, the more the merrier!