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Category: Blog (Page 4 of 7)

Never Alone

I think there is a good reason that the apostle Paul never names his infamous “thorn in the flesh.” By not giving it a name or a condition, we can all place our own suffering experience into the text and relate to his pain. Although I am not an expert on the subject of suffering, I certainly can relate to a thorn in the flesh. Mine happens to be in the form of joint instability and the pain that goes with it. I too have asked for my thorn to be removed. Although I hope that one day I am healed, for now, the Lord is slowly teaching me that His grace really is sufficient.

My “thorn in the flesh” journey began about six years ago. A year or two into the journey, I remember a day that I took a walk in the woods. As I walked, I was thinking and praying, and honestly feeling pretty sorry for myself. Any time I took a walk my dog, Todd, a black lab mix, walked with me. He was so enthusiastic, running ahead, chasing all the smells and noises, but constantly making sure that he was near me.  He would double back around to check in with me, before chasing the next smell.

A loyal companion

I was contemplating how faithful my dog was to me, when I felt the Lord impress on my spirit that He was the same way.  I might be going through suffering, but I would not do it alone. The Lord was with me, and He had given me a family (and dog) who loved me and would walk with me on this journey.

As time passes, even though I feel that I grow wiser, somehow I find that I need to be reminded of truths that the Lord has taught me before. Flash forward to this week, when the Lord did a similar thing for me again. Last week I was experiencing more pain than usual, and with the pain came worry, insecurity, and fear of the future. One afternoon I took a walk and was praying about it. By praying about it, I mean ugly crying and once again having a pity party. As I walked and cried, a phrase from Psalm 91 came into my head: “I will be with him in trouble.” I stopped walking, and pulled out my Bible app to read the whole verse:

“When he calls to me, I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him.”

Psalm 91:15

Once again, the Lord reassured me that although I was experiencing pain, I was not in it alone.

The promises of Scripture are so rich. When we suffer, we can hold on to God’s promises more tightly, exploring the depths of them more fully.  We serve a dependable God. He is the same today, tomorrow, and forever. My feelings and circumstances change, but His grace and faithfulness don’t waver. I’m so thankful that when our perspective is skewed by pain and fear, He reminds us of His faithfulness.

In Christ, we are never alone.

Pause: Find space in your day that you have time to read, pray, and journal.  Look for promises in Scripture about suffering and God’s faithfulness (or whatever else pertains to your current life situation).

Renew: Write these verses down in a journal so that you can revisit these promises when you need a reminder.  If there are one or two verses that really stand out to you, put them on a 3X5 card and carry them with you or put them in a place that you will see them often.

Next: Take opportunities throughout this week to bring your thoughts and feelings to the Lord in prayer.  Take time to listen for His voice and to spend time in the Bible meditating on what you read there. The Lord has the power to re-frame our perspective about our circumstances.

May you have the reassurance that the Lord goes before you, behind you, and with you, always.

Pause, Renew, Next!

Stories of Faith – Pass Them On!

I’m going to let you in on a secret: this blog and podcast ministry affects me more than it does my audience. Of course, my intention is for PRN to encourage other women in their faith, but I also find that it encourages my own. Let me explain.

While recording my the last two podcast interviews, I found myself becoming tearful as my sweet friends shared their God stories. Tearful because the stories were touching. Tearful because even though these women are my friends, there were layers of their stories that I had not previously known. Tearful because the Lord was using their stories to touch my own heart. As they shared about how God ministered and spoke to them, God was, through them, ministering to my own heart as well.

My pastor often says, “Believe the Gospel more.” At face value, this sounds like a really wise blanket statement to any Christian, but I honestly don’t often apply it. What does it really mean to believe the Gospel more?

The Gospel is GOOD NEWS, not just the minute I received salvation, but every minute: In the midst of hard days with my kids, in the midst of days my body doesn’t want to cooperate with my plans, in the midst of busy, can’t get a breath between activities, kinds of days. It’s good news on the days many people read my blog and listen to my podcast, and it’s still good on the days that they don’t. The Good News remains the same: I am loved, accepted, forgiven, and redeemed by the Lord Jesus Christ. He is using every circumstance in the present life, even the bad, to be worked into His (and my) ultimate good. (Romans 8:28)

That is SUCH good news! Realistically though, it’s incredibly difficult to maintain that perspective! The primary way I can believe the Gospel more is to spend time with the Lord and in His Word. However, the second most important factor to my faith being renewed, is twofold:

  1. I need to remember and tell others about God’s faithfulness in my life. Remembering times He has been faithful in the past helps me have faith for my future.
  2. Hearing others’ stories of God’s faithfulness encourages and renews my faith. Where has the Lord shown up, sustained them, spoken to them, reminded them of His goodness? When have they stepped out in faith and been caught by their faithful Savior? Hearing others’ stories bolsters my faith.
Psalms 40:10

Thankfully, through podcasting, I get a double portion of faith stories. I get to hear the stories the first time as we record, and then I listen to the conversation again through the editing process. I find that there are many parts of the stories that I hear the second time around that I missed the first time. This too reminds me of the faith walk. I may read a passage of Scripture once and come away with one golden nugget, but when I read the passage again, another nugget of truth sticks out to me.

Telling and hearing faith stories is a key part of being in the body of Christ. So, if you have a story of God’s faithfulness in your life, don’t keep it to yourself. Pray and wait – the Lord will bring people into your life who need to hear your story.

Are you feeling depleted in your own faith right now? Spend time in the Word and in prayer. Go talk and pray with those whom you know are strong in their faith and listen to their stories of God’s faithfulness. The body of Christ working together can spread faith like wildfire. Faith is contagious. Like a baton in a relay, pass it on.

Pause: Take a deep breath and find a quiet space to read Psalm 40: 1-11. What stands out to you as you read this passage?

Renew: Reflect on a time that you heard someone share, as Psalms 40:10 says, God’s faithfulness and deliverance in their life. How did hearing that story affect your own faith?

Next: Spend some time this week reflecting on the Lord’s faithfulness in your life. If you have not previously done so, journal about it. It can be helpful to record those memories. Pray about how those stories may encourage others.

May we speak of the Lord’s faithfulness and believe the Gospel more!

Pause, Renew, Next!

Puffed Up or Built Up?

As an adoptive mother, I have known for some time that I should have a polite and respectable answer prepared for those inevitable times when I will be publicly asked questions about my son. From the very beginning of the fostering and adoption journey, I knew the questions were destined to come. However, no matter how much preparation I have done for those moments, they always seem to catch me off guard.

Mother and son – hand in hand.

For example, one day last summer I was checking out at the grocery store when one such question arrived. This particular day I happened to be alone, and every mother of multiples knows that a shopping trip without kids is like a mini getaway. So, it caught me off guard when the cashier referenced my adopted son and asked “Where did you get him from?” Now, the first thought I had was: we must be really well known at this grocery store for her to remember my children, even when they’re not with me!

Being caught off guard, my response felt like a fumbling attempt to educate her about foster care and the fact that all adopted African American children do not arrive through international adoption agencies. Honestly, I mostly just tried not to be rude. Afterwards, as I loaded my groceries into my van, I was internally frustrated with myself over my response. I replayed the conversation over and over again in my mind. I felt miffed with people in general for being so ignorant, and more than anything I was relieved that my son had not been present to hear the conversation.

Not long after that event, my husband and I were visiting with his cousin and her husband, who had recently done research on privilege and race. When I shared about my exchange at the grocery store, he offered a wise and unique perspective. He explained that people are fundamentally curious, and that, as a white woman, the cashier would probably never have approached an African American mother to ask a question like that. However, in her curiosity, she felt she could approach me. He said kindly and gently that, rather than being offended, I could view it as a privilege to answer questions that otherwise might never have been asked. Due to our conversation, the cashier had learned something about fostering and adopting she had not known before our interaction.

It’s all about perspective. I feel extraordinarily honored to be my son’s mother. Above all, I want to guard his heart and protect his story. Nonetheless, I am in a unique position to educate others about adoption, particularly about transracial adoption. My family is a living show-and-tell to our community.

On the other hand, I must also humble myself and learn from others. Because as much as I have sometimes been offended by others’ questions, I find myself asking questions too in my attempt to learn all that I need to know. Sometimes I have done this well, and other times I cringe to think about what a fool I’ve made of myself. Learning can be a humbling process.

I can’t change any minds, opinions, or lives through imparting knowledge. I could share all day about adoption, and it would mean absolutely nothing if it were not for love. People care when they see love. People care when they feel loved. I wish that I had shown a little more love that day in the grocery store.

Paul speaks to this very thing when he writes in I Corinthians 8:

We know that “all of us possess knowledge.” This “knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up.  If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know.  But if anyone loves God, he is known by God.

I Corinthians 8: 1b – 3 ESV

I love knowledge. I have attended phenomenal adoption conferences and read amazing books. Still, I can admit it: I do not yet know as I ought to know. Not about motherhood. Not about adoption. Not about raising a son who looks different than me. The list goes on and on.

I Corinthians 8:1

My hope is that before I graduate this life, I learn to love first and pass on knowledge second. So, if you happen to see me out and about and have a curiosity question to ask of me regarding my son, I make two requests:

  1. Please make sure my children are not present. I want to protect my son from questions that could bring him unnecessary pain.
  2. Know that if you catch me off guard, there’s just no telling what might pop out of my mouth. (Just being honest.) Still, I hope that as I grow in knowledge and love, my answers will become wiser and more full of grace.

If on the other hand you happen to be on the receiving end, and I have asked you a seemingly awkward question, know that my heart was probably in the right place. I just so want to advocate for my son, and sometimes I can come across as clumsy in my zeal.

Verse 3 of the above Scripture passage is my favorite part: “If anyone loves God, he is known by God.” What a promise! We as humans might miscommunicate, get frustrated, or focus too much on knowledge, but God sees through all of it right to our very souls. He knows us: our motivations, our curiosities, our struggles, and our love. That is an amazing promise in which a tired mama can rest.

Pause: Find a quiet place where you can spend a few moments alone with the Lord. Read I Corinthians 8:1-3 and meditate on what you find there. For more context, read the rest of the chapter as well. What stands out to you in this passage?

Renew: In what areas of your life do you find yourself knowledgeable? Take a moment to honestly evaluate how you share your knowledge with others. Is it with love? If not, pray about how the Lord can help you love others well in this area.

Next: Look for opportunities this week to show grace to curious bystanders in your life. When you feel an eye roll forming, take a moment to observe your internal reaction and shift your paradigm. How can you bring light and love to the interaction while imparting knowledge?

May we view curiosity as an opportunity to build others up in love.

Pause, Renew, Next!

Body Image: Perspective is Key

The funny thing about bodies is that we all have one. We’re all given the same parts that serve the same functions. There is nothing new under the sun. Why is it then, that we can find so much dissatisfaction with our own bodies? Let’s be honest. Every woman struggles with disapproval about at least one part of her body. Yes, even beautiful women. Yes, even super models.

There is a turning point, somewhere around puberty (maybe before), where we become aware of our bodies, and especially the flaws of our bodies: maybe due to someone pointing them out, or maybe from comparing to friends or people in magazines or on social media. Regardless of how it comes about, from that moment on we engage in a life-long battle for our own body self-acceptance.

One of the most insidious detriments to our body image is the comparison factor. We are constantly assessing and comparing ourselves to those around us. How do we measure up? Now add airbrushed models or actresses into that comparison trap, and it becomes a battle that is completely unwinnable.

In order to combat our own insecurities, there are a few strategies that we tend to use: engaging in dieting and exercise, seeking validation and attention, or hiding our flaws through clothing, make-up, or surgery.

Although the above strategies seem like they will provide you with confidence and self-assurance, they are only a thin mirage. Even when you meet your self-imposed goals, you’re still just you. No amount of weight loss, liposuction, firming or tucking can change that.

If you read my earlier blog post about thinking patterns, Thoughts, Thighs, and Tollbooths, you know that the things we think about create pathways in our brains. If we dwell on negative thoughts long enough, there will be a cost to our minds, bodies, and relationships. How then can we shift perspective about our body image?

On exercise:  Our bodies are our own personal power packs with which we accomplish life. With them we can live, move, feel, see, and hear. We can experience the world in a sensory way, and move about, solely due to this body that we often take for granted. When our thoughts about our bodies are skewed, exercise can become a demand, almost a slave driver, rather than the freedom that movement was designed to be.

A passage of Scripture that I have found particularly helpful in this area is found in I Timothy 4:

Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.

I Timothy 4:7b – 8 ESV

These bodies we have on this earth, although incredible gifts, will one day age and die. Unfortunately, no amount of fighting it will change that, due to the laws of sin and death, and no amount of exercise in this life carries over to eternity. There we will have new, glorified, radiant bodies, free from pain, wrinkles, and death! Praise the Lord! So, rather than putting an overabundance of attention on physical training, for the purpose of weight loss or “toning,” we might be better served by placing our focus on growing our spiritual lives in Christ, which has eternal value.

On food: I’m sure this is a controversial statement, but as someone who has both battled an eating disorder, and now works as a counselor, my motto is: “there are NO BAD FOODS.” Placing foods in categories can begin a slippery slope of rules. Black and white thinking about food can easily lead to an unhealthy relationship with food.

Have you noticed that eating is a major part of social events and living in community? Families discuss their days around the dinner table. When we feel we have to eat a restrictive diet, or eat in isolation due to shame, we can miss out on family, friends, church, and community functions. Food is life-giving. Enjoy it. We want to fuel our bodies well so we have the energy we need for life!

Seeking balance is the key: all things in moderation. I love I Corinthians 10:31 (in the picture below), because it provides great context for seeking the Lord’s glory in all things, even food.

I Corinthians 10:31

On negative body perceptions: How can we fight against our own negative thoughts? Particularly when it comes to self-image, this is a hard task.

One strategy is to talk back to negative thoughts, taking them captive to Christ. If you find it too difficult to combat the thoughts using your own self-talk, find a Scripture that relates to your area of struggle, and use it to fight those negative thoughts.

Another tactic that can help shift perspective is to reframe the thoughts from condemnation to gratitude.

Don’t like those stretch marks on your belly? Praise the Lord that your body carried the babies who gave them to you. They are like sweet tattoos documenting the little lives who grew inside of you.

Hate the flab on your thighs? Thank God for those sturdy thighs that provide support to your whole body. They contain some of the largest muscles in your body, and without them you would be unable to stand, walk, kick, or squat.

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.

Romans 12:1

The enemy gains so much ground in our lives in the areas of shame surrounding our own self-image. It’s really hard to do this work alone. I believe it’s incredibly important to lift each other up in this area and to bounce our skewed thoughts off of others who love us and care for us no matter the weight, size, shape, or strength of our bodies.

2 Corinthians 4:16

Pause: Take a deep breath and exhale slowly. Read II Corinthians 4:7-18. Read it through slowly, out loud, then silently the second time. Highlight any sections that stand out to you.

Renew: Journal/Think/Pray about the areas of your own body image that you think may be out of alignment. How do the above verses change your perspective about your body image?

Next: If you find that negative body thoughts are taking up an unhealthy amount of time in your life, consider ways that you can begin to find freedom from self-condemnation. Find a trusted friend, mentor, family member, or counselor with whom you can talk about this issue. If you know that the struggle is deep enough that you need a professional, please seek out someone trained in the areas of body image, eating disorders, or trauma.

May you be free to see the beauty and value of your body and to use it for His glory!

Pause, Renew, Next!

Hide and Seek

Have you ever played hide and seek with a toddler? Hide and seek is to a two year old what peek-a-boo is to an infant: a game full of inexpressible joy and surprise. As an adult, the game is rewarding simply because playing with a small child generates loads of grins and giggles.

It’s not exactly a game of strategy when playing hide and seek with a little one. Honestly, the first dilemma is that a toddler has not yet learned the art of being quiet. They often give themselves away with scuffling, sniffles, giggles, or whispers. Sometimes they even announce their location, squealing “Here I am!” The game is often a simple one because toddlers tend to pick the same hiding spot over and over again. If it worked the first time, then surely it will work again, right? No, for small children, the game is not about logic or strategy: it’s an enjoyable game where they can be found by a caregiver who loves them!

“Come find me, Mommy! Here I am!”

From a parent’s perspective, there is a little more strategy involved. When playing with a toddler, an important tactic is to hide in a painfully obvious place. It is important to make just a little noise or leave a part of your body partially exposed to make it easier for the child to find you. After all, the point is not to be standing in plain sight, nor is it to be completely hidden. The object of the game is to be found! It’s the moment of being discovered that brings shouts of joy, hugs, and contagious giggles.

Have you ever wondered if maybe God interacts with us in a similar way? I once heard my college pastor preach a sermon about this very idea. Granted, many years have elapsed, and I don’t remember his exact words. Still, the concept has remained in my mind over the years. God delights in hiding and letting us seek Him. He never hides in inaccessible places, because He promises to never leave us. He delights to leave a toe sticking out under a door, so to speak, so that we can more easily find Him.

For instance, have you ever gone through a season where you felt you met the Lord in a very real and tangible way? Maybe His Word came alive to you. Maybe He gave you comfort at a time you needed it. Maybe He fulfilled a promise or provided for you in an unexpected and aptly-timed manner. Maybe you felt an intimacy with your Savior that you had been missing previously. Aren’t those moments priceless? If only we could sustain those spiritual mountaintop experiences!

Just like a child who has discovered his father hiding behind the couch, we are delighted and astounded to find our Father hiding in plain sight! Because we are very often like toddlers ourselves, we may look in the same place over and over again. If we found Him there once, we might find Him there again! Both thankfully, and frustratingly, our God is not that predictable. I believe He enjoys surprising us, and our experiences with Him cannot be duplicated. He longs for us to seek Him and promises that if we earnestly seek Him that we will find Him (Jeremiah 29:13). He may choose a new hiding place, but we will be just as delighted each time we discover a new aspect of His character. In this way, we continue to be enchanted and delighted by our ever-loving and ever-mysterious Heavenly Father.

You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.

Jeremiah 29:13 NIV

Pause: Find a quiet and comfortable place to read Psalm 105. In what ways did the Lord “show” Himself to the Israelites? If you have the time, make a list.

Renew: How has the Lord revealed Himself to you? Can you make a list from your own life, just as David could list the ways that the Lord showed up for the Israelites in Psalm 105?

Next: I just love Lauren Daigle’s song, Salt and Light. There’s a line in the song that says, “Let my eyes see your Kingdom shine all around.” In the same way, keep your eyes open to see where the Lord and His Kingdom are at work around you this week.

May you seek the Lord and discover new aspects of His majesty.

Pause, Renew, Next!

Healing is Not Linear

Last summer, I attended a training seminar that included a yoga breakout session. The yoga instructor asked each member of the audience to choose a phrase or “intention” to meditate on as we participated in the yoga exercises. One of the example intentions she offered was “healing is not linear.”

Often the path of healing has many twists, turns, hills, and obtacles

I’m sure this was not an original phrase, but it was new to me. Immediately, I latched onto the phrase, mulling it about in my mind – “healing is not linear.” In other words, healing does not follow a straight path. It is not accomplished in a series of pre-assigned steps. It is not a 45 degree climb straight from injury to health or from trauma to recovery. Healing is often much more complicated than that. In fact, it more predictably looks like a game of Mother May I – two steps forward, one step back, one giant leap forward, three baby steps back, one bunny hop forward…. you get the idea.

In the book, How to Help Your Teenager Beat an Eating Disorder, authors Locke and Le Grange liken the recovery process to hiking up a sand dune. They advocate working hard, not stopping or counting the victory until reaching the top of the hill. This is a word picture that I find myself often using with clients who are in the midst of a healing journey. When walking up a sand dune, it is not wise to set up camp partway up the hill. Soon, you will find yourself sliding back down, losing traction against gravity. No, it is a long, hard, zig zag pattern of a journey, over many ridges, to reach the pinnacle of recovery.

Healing may even include different supporters along the journey. Maybe you started out with one group of supporters, but along the way, you picked up new cheerleaders. Maybe you found a mentor, an encourager, someone who just “got you,” that helped you over ridges along your path to healing. Just like physical therapy is a painful, but necessary part of a post-surgery recovery, so is a loyal friend who is willing to encourage accountability on a path of healing in our lives.

Perhaps your own healing has not come in the way or in the timing that you had hoped. Possibly, you expected that your healing path (physical, mental, emotional or spiritual) would come more easily. Maybe you’ve found yourself discouraged at the amount of time it’s taken, the prognosis given, or your own inability to “move forward.” Healing is not a destination. It doesn’t happen in a particular time frame. It’s a journey that requires grace and forgiveness, even of ourselves.

Pause: Take a deep breath and exhale. Read II Corinthians 4:16-18. What does this passage speak to you about healing? What are the promises presented in this passage? How does that change your perspective on affliction and healing?

Renew: Think about a time that you have been on a healing journey. What was that path like for you? How long did it take, and what were the elements that helped you along the way?

Next: Do you know someone who is currently healing either physically or emotionally? Think and pray about ways that you can encourage and show them support this week.

May we give ourselves grace as we allow ourselves and the others around us to heal.

Pause, Renew, Next!

Hold Tight and Be Held

Let me make a confession: I have chosen the same word of the year, every January, for multiple years in a row. Granted, I did briefly consider finding a new word for this year, but I realized that, more than anything, I need to continue to lean in to the word I have chosen in years past. My word of the year is: Abide.

A little reminder I made for my wall

It’s cute; it’s sweet; it’s to the point. Or is it? What does abide actually mean? It’s not a word that tends to show up in everyday conversation. The apostle John likes to use it frequently, and you can find it sprinkled throughout the gospel of John and I John. John uses it to refer to union with Christ. Abide comes from the Greek word meno. You didn’t know you’d be learning Greek today, did you?

The Greek word meno can have many meanings, including:

  • to remain
  • to be held, kept, continually
  • to survive, live
  • to wait for; await one

I am choosing the word abide because in this season, I am continuing to fight with joint pain that feels unfair at my age, but am trying to boast in my weaknesses, as Paul does in II Corinthians 12. This season I am raising four boys, who are wide open, full of curiosity, noise, chaos, and valor, and praying they grow up to advance the Kingdom of God. This season, I am privileged to work part-time counseling others who are experiencing hardship, anxiety, or disappointment. This season I am in faith jumping headfirst into this new ministry of PRN, to encourage women in their faith. My list goes on and on. All the while, in all of the arenas, I’m trying to remember it’s not all about me. I want to picture walking behind Jesus, as His disciple, learning His ways and learning His voice. I want and need to abide.

Jesus says in John 15 that He is the vine, and we are the branches. If we abide in Him and He in us, then we will bear much fruit. He declares that without him, we will not bear fruit.

John 15:9 ESV

Yet, often I find myself doing things in my own effort. Trying a little too hard to make things happen on my own time table, in my own way. Still, He graciously and lovingly reminds me that without Him I can do nothing. It’s not all about me.

So, as the definitions of meno remind me, I so want to remain. I want to survive and live. I find myself waiting and awaiting so many things. However, it’s the second definition of meno that really gets me down deep in my soul: to be held, kept, continually. Yes, I am to hold onto Jesus for all I’m worth, but the paradox is that He’s doing the holding. He’s keeping me. Continually. What a beautiful and heavenly promise. What a complete and total relief.

Pause: Find a quiet moment and read through John 15: 1-17. If you want to, read it through more than once. There is plenty to mull over in this chapter. What stands out to you in this passage?

Renew: Take time to think/journal/pray about what areas of your life you find it easy to abide, and what areas seem more difficult. How can you become more purposeful in relying on Jesus more in those difficult areas?

Next: In verse 12 of John 15, Jesus commands: “Love each other as I have loved you.” Today, choose one action of love that you can give to someone who is not expecting it.

May we abide in Him and He in us, and may we bear much fruit!

Pause, Renew, Next!

The Anticipation of Christmas

I just love Christmastime.  I love everything including the lights, the tree, the music, the parties, the decorations, the gifts, the food, and the anticipation. Yes, especially the anticipation.

Anticipation is the expectation of something, the hope that builds as we wait. For children, Christmas is all about the anticipation of the presents.  As a parent, the anticipation is waiting to see the joy on my children’s faces as they unwrap their gifts.

The anticipation of Christmas!

Even more importantly, as I mature, I feel the anticipation of the Advent season. As we light the Advent candles at church, I feel the hope and excitement of the true meaning of Christmas.  As I read Advent stories with my boys, I can relive what it must have felt like to wait for the long-awaited Messiah.

I have the opportunity to worship from this side of history, knowing that He has already come. However, Simeon and Anna (found in Luke 2), are famous for their holy and long-enduring faith as they waited for Him to arrive.  I just love these two – their faith, their attitude, and their joy at being included in the story of Jesus’ arrival.

And there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; and this man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel; and the Holy Spirit was upon him.  Luke 2: 25 NASB

Simeon received a special promise from the Holy Spirit that he would see the Messiah before he died.  He believed it with all of his heart.  Luke says that the Holy Spirit led him to the temple on the day that Mary and Joseph came to present their baby to the Lord.  Simeon saw the infant Messiah with his eyes, and he immediately believed and rejoiced.  Not only that, he blessed God and prophesied aloud to his parents and any onlookers present!  He was filled with gratitude for the gifts that had been given: 1) his own promise fulfilled – seeing the Christ with his own eyes, and 2) the ultimate promise fulfilled – “the consolation of Israel” and “a light of revelation to the Gentiles.”

Then there’s Anna.  She is a kind of grace note in the story of Christmas.  She did not play a vital role in the story of Jesus’ birth. In fact, there is a mere paragraph about her in Luke.  Still, she was included in this miraculous story for a reason.

Luke says that Anna was a prophetess. Honestly, we don’t often hear in Scripture about female prophets, so that in and of itself is remarkable.  What’s even more extraordinary about Anna is that she was 84 years old, living, serving, fasting, and praying in the temple.  We’re told that she “never left the temple.”  Anna was at one point married for seven years and then widowed.  In this passage, we find her as an old woman in the temple.  Her life had been entirely dedicated to serving the Lord.

Unlike Simeon, we aren’t told that the Lord promised her anything.  This is why her story is so amazing.  She was just serving the Lord faithfully, using her gifts for His honor and glory.  While doing this, she happened to overhear the exchange between Simeon and Jesus’ parents.  She was therefore included in this incredible revelation.  Upon seeing Jesus, she immediately began giving thanks to God and spoke of Him “to all those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem” (Luke 2:38). I can just picture her little wrinkled, joyful self, stopping to talk to anyone and everyone at the temple who had time to listen. I just hope I grow up to be such an 84 year old one day.

Don’t these two just make your heart flip over a little bit?  They were two faithful people, advanced in years, serving the Lord.  They were anticipating His arrival, and God blessed them.  He wrote them into His story.

Pause: Find a nice, comfortable spot near your Christmas tree, and read the story of Simeon and Anna in Luke: 2:21-38.  What stands out to you in this story?

Renew: What are you anticipating this Christmas season?  If, instead of worship, you have been feeling stress, take time to pray and think about how you can shift your perspective or priorities so that you can take time to delight and hope in Jesus’ arrival.

Next: Look for one characteristic of Simeon or Anna that you admired in this passage.  Was it their faith?  Their excitement?  Their endurance while waiting for a promise?  Whatever it was that stood out to you, focus on emulating that characteristic in your own walk of faith.

May we take delight in the anticipation of Emmanuel.

Pause, Renew, Next!

Advent, A Star, and Adoration

For the past couple of years, our family has begun a new Advent tradition.  We have been reading through the Jotham’s Journey series by Arnold Ytreeide. This year’s advent reading is titled Ishtar’s Odyssey, and it centers around the story of the Wise Men.  (No spoilers please, we’re still at the beginning!)

The story of the Wise Men is slightly odd, isn’t it? Little is known about them, and they show up only in one part of Scripture. They followed a mysterious star and found the Savior. How did that happen? We don’t know how many of them there were, their background, or even their origin, other than that they came from the East.

Still, they hold an important place in the Christmas narrative. After all, what’s a Christmas play without the Wise Men? They show up in nativity scenes, in Christmas Scripture readings, and on Christmas cards. They even have their own Christmas song!

Although little is known of these men, Matthew does tell us that they were wise.  By this, we can assume that they were educated and knowledgeable. Judging by the gifts they brought Jesus, as well as by tradition, we can guess that they were also very wealthy. This makes it all the more intriguing that men of this caliber would travel untold miles to bestow riches upon an infant.

And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him.  Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.

Matthew 2: 11 ESV

We can learn so much from the Wise Men’s example. The Savior was so important to them, that showing Him adoration was the ultimate object of their desire.

The definition of Adore is:

  • to regard with the utmost esteem, love, and respect; honor.
  • to pay divine honor to; worship
  • to like or admire very much:

O come let us adore Him!

The Wise Men have much to teach us about the act of adoration. Here are a few of the lessons that stand out to me:

  1. Adoration is the most important thing.  The Wise Men understood the importance of the Savior, and they were willing to humble themselves, bowing down before an infant King in order to show their adoration.
  2. It was worth the risk.  What did they risk?  We may never know the extent of it, since little is written about them in Scripture.  However, we do know that they took a potentially dangerous journey with an unknown destination. There was no GPS, only a star. They were following on sheer faith. They even had to go through mad King Herod to reach Jesus.
  3. Adoration cost them something.  They didn’t flippantly congratulate the parents on the birth of their new child. Instead, they practically hunted them down in order to adore their baby. And when they found Jesus, they presented Him with costly gifts. These gifts were not random; they had Spiritual significance. They were specifically chosen and carefully carried over a long distance to be presented to their King.

Maybe we should all be a little more like the Wise Men this Christmas, taking time to adore our Savior.

Pause: Take a deep breath and prepare your mind and body to be still.  Read and reflect on the Wise Men’s story in Matthew 2 : 1-12

Renew:  When is the last time that you can remember taking time to adore the Savior?  What were you doing?  Praying?  Singing?  Reading the Bible?  How do you most often show your adoration for the Lord?

Next: As we enter the Advent season, think about ways that you want to offer adoration to Christ:  maybe prioritizing time to pray or sing as a family, setting aside time for personal Worship at home or in the car, or simply shifting your perspective on the Christmas season.  Whatever it is that you choose to do, do it with joy!

May we too come to adore Him!

Pause, Renew, Next!

Trials by Fire

At some point in the life of every believer, a trial will come that will test their faith.  With trials come frustration, grief, and desperation.  Maybe in your trial, you believed that if you were faithful God would take the struggle from you, but He didn’t.  Maybe you have done everything you  know to do, asked the right questions, prayed the right prayers, and sought counsel from wise people, but nothing seems to change.  The trial just will not be lifted.

If so, you’re not alone.  In fact, in the New Testament, Peter warns believers:

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.  But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.        I Peter 4:12 & 13

In other words, if you walk with Jesus long enough, a trial is bound to happen. Trials solidify and increase our faith.  They help build spiritual muscles.  They also let us experience suffering with Christ.

Wrestling when under trial produces endurance and increases the strength of our faith

Wow, there wasn’t a lot of sugar coating to that delivery was there?  Trials happen – expect them. Great, but where is the good news?  I am totally getting there, I promise, but to illustrate walking through a fiery trial (literally),  let’s look at the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednago.  If you don’t know the story, it can be found in Daniel, chapter 3. Here is a summary of the story:

The King of Babylon, Nebachadnezzar, had an immense, golden statue constructed, and he commanded all of his officials to bow down to it.  The whole scenario was a little pompous, but for the average official obeying his command was of no real consequence.  This was not the case for Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednago. They were Jewish transplants, having been taken captive and brought into Babylon as teenagers, and they followed Yahweh only.  So, when the music played, they refused to bow down.

In every situation, you can count on some tattle-tales to arrive on the scene, and this scenario was no different.  Some astrologers told the King that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednago had not bowed down to the statue. King Nebachadnezzar was incredulous!  He warned the three men that, if they would not bow down, they would be thrown into a fiery furnace.

I think this definitely qualifies as a fiery trial.  It doesn’t get much warmer than that.  Still, the three men did not back down but boldly replied:

If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand.  But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”  Daniel 3: 17-18 NIV

The King was irate and ordered the furnace be heated up seven times hotter than normal.  He commanded that the three men be thrown in.  The fire was so hot, that even the men who threw Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednago into the furnace died in the flames.

Now this is where the story becomes utterly amazing!

When the king looked into the furnace, there were men walking around.  How could they be alive? Not only that, but there was a fourth man in the fire, and he looked like “a son of the gods.”

Most Christians throughout history believe that He wasn’t “a son of gods” but the Son of God.  Jesus himself entered the fire with those men.  The King hurriedly called them out of the furnace, and the three men exited the fire unscarred, unburned, without even the smell of smoke on their clothes.

The King was so amazed and moved by this miracle, that He proclaimed that no one in the nation could ever again speak badly of the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednago.

What can this story teach us about how to live by faith through trials?

  1. We can trust that if He doesn’t save us from the trial, Jesus will be with us in the midst of it. He will never leave us to struggle alone.
  2. If He does not spare us from a trial, then we can know with certainty that He will work the trial out to increase our faith and increase His glory.

Pause:  Open your Bible and read Daniel 3.  If you felt distracted the first time, take a deep breath, and try reading it again.

Renew:  Are you currently facing a trial that is testing your faith and resolve? If not currently, have you faced a trial like this in the past?  What truths can you hold onto that help you stand strong in your faith in the midst of hardship?

Next:  If you are currently facing a trial, ask others to pray with you about it. There’s no need to face it alone.  If you are not currently going through a trial, but you know someone who is, pray for them.  Ask how you can help support them.

May we have faith to see the fourth Man in the fire with us!

Pause, Renew, Next!


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