Archive for the “Experiencing God” Category

1 Very early on the first day of the week, at dawn, the women came to the tomb, bringing the spices they had prepared. 2 They found the stone rolled away from the entrance of the tomb, 3 but when they went in, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4 While they were wondering about this, two men in shining clothes suddenly stood beside them. 5 The women were very afraid and bowed their heads to the ground.

The men said to them, “Why are you looking for a living person in this place for the dead? 6 He is not here; he has risen from the dead. Do you remember what he told you in Galilee?”

Luke 24:1-6 (NCV)

As I read this passage this morning, verse 5 struck me – “Why are you looking for a living person in this place for the dead?” This is the New Century Version translation of the more familiar translation “Why do you look for the living among the dead?”

Sometimes reading from a different translation allows the Word of God to speak to us in different ways. We know this verse relates to the women looking for the dead body of Jesus to anoint it with spices. The angel’s words were the first announcement that Jesus had risen from the dead – “why are you looking for a living person in this place for the dead?” In other words, “Jesus is not dead, He is alive so you won’t find Him in this place for the dead.”

Jesus is not dead, He is alive. And you won’t find him in this place for the dead.

We serve a risen Savior, praise God! His life means that I too can find life. It means that you can find life, no matter how horrible – or dead – your circumstances are.

As I read this passage this morning, it was as if God were saying… “If you want more of me, don’t look for me in the dead areas of your life…Don’t focus on those things because they are dead. I’m alive – look for me among the living.” I’m not saying that God doesn’t come to us in our darkest circumstances. I’m saying that finding Him means looking away from our dark circumstances toward His goodness.

You may feel like there is little in your life which is good right now. That’s a lie from the enemy, my friend. Seek even the smallest good, focus on it, and thank God for it, and then ask Him to open your eyes to the greater goodness around you. I have no doubt that if you do that consistently, God will reveal Himself to you in greater and greater ways. Yes, focusing on the smallest good is a discipline that must be learned and developed – but it is doable and you can do it.

That first smallest good thing might be simply an unexpected smile from someone who crosses your path, an unexpected beauty (in nature or in a painting, for example), or an unexpected joy (perhaps from a song or phone call). That good thing is among the living and it is where you will find your Savior.

I am reminded of the old hymn Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus. Written by Hellen Lemmel in 1922, you can find many versions of it on Youtube – performances from the current decade by artists and groups such as Hillsongs, Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith, Alan Jackson and more. I listened to many of them, but chose this version by Loyiso Bala, Neville D and Ivan Siegelaar. Listen to it. Allow it to seep into your soul and lead you into finding the smallest good thing and then the greatest good thing – Jesus.

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On the third of December I sent myself a fairly cryptic email. The subject line read like this: “Journal/Blog: 2015 – Year of Hope.”

2015 – Year of Hope. I didn’t identify any specific Scripture I was reading when God dropped that into my spirit, but I remember feeling the nudge from God so strongly that I sent myself an email so that I could later transfer the thought to my personal journal and seek God for what else He might want to say about it. Maybe I would develop it into a blog or series of blogs.

That was it. I haven’t done any more writing on the topic or study or research. But God planted the word in my spirit on December 3rd and it’s been growing.

I suspect there will be a number of blogs on the topic of hope in 2015, but I wanted to start with sharing the thing that gives me the greatest hope on a day-to-day basis.

What is it that gives you hope when you are tempted to feel less than hopeful. When life beats you up a bit, or even perhaps when life just continues in the constant sameness day after day – How do you answer the question that comes unbidden into your mind “Is all this worth it?” What is it that gives you hope?

Now as Christians, we have many reasons to be hopeful. As a believer in Christ and one who desires to make Him Lord of my life, I can have hope regardless of my circumstances because I am…

  • forgiven
  • saved
  • sanctified – a fancy word for “made holy or acceptable to God” (a pretty amazing and wonderful thing)
  • filled with the Holy Spirit
  • the bride of Christ
  • seated with Him in heavenly places

And on top of all that, I have the promise of spending eternity in heaven with my Lord. Hallelujah!

Those are all tremendous reasons for rejoicing and for having hope…all great reasons that I’m not going to write about today, except to say that if you are not totally confident in all those things – if you’re not totally confident that you’ve been forgiven, if you’re not totally confident that you will spend eternity in heaven, check out these blogs:

Made Right with God

How Can I Know I’m Saved

There’s another reason to be hopeful that sits at the top of my list. I can get pretty jazzed about the reasons I’ve just identified, but they’re all very future. Yes, they have a “for today” element, but they’re largely reasons I can be hopeful for my future.

The reason I get most jazzed about is a present, for today, reason. That one reason is this: God – the Creator of the Universe and everything in it – the One who holds the world together – the One who created me and knows me better than I know myself – that God has plans and purposes for my life that have eternal significance. He has things for me to do today that will have impacts that continue through all eternity is what I get jazzed about.

And you know what? I can step into those plans because I know that He is the God of the impossible. So no matter what my circumstances are, no matter what my physical or intellectual abilities are, no matter what my personality limitations are, He is the God of the impossible and He wants to use me to impact eternity! Wow! Hallelujah!

You see, I am sometimes tempted to be discouraged by my circumstances or physical abilities. I am tempted to think I’m not smart enough or I don’t have the personality or natural abilities I need to do something for God. But you know what? A God who can do the impossible – a God who has miracle working power – that God (my God) operates outside the boundaries of our circumstances and abilities.

That’s important enough to repeat: Our God is not limited by our circumstances and abilities – He works outside them. Yes, He works within them in the sense that He uses our circumstances and our abilities to accomplish His purposes, but He works outside them in the sense that He is God. He can do what we can’t even begin to imagine. And the thing is, He wants to do it in and through us. He could do it on His own…but He says “come on, let’s do it together.”

Friends, that’s what I get jazzed about. Let’s look at Ephesians 3: 20-21:

20Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.
Ephesians 3:20-21 (NIV)

In the New King James translation, it reads “to him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think.” Hallelujah!

Let’s break look at the passage a bit more closely.

“Now to Him who is able” – are you convinced that God is able? That’s the place to start.

We’ll come back to this passage, but let’s look briefly at Hebrews 11:1. A very common verse…

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.
Hebrews 11:1 (NIV)

The Holman Christian Standard Bible says it this way:

Now faith is the reality [or assurance] of what is hoped for, the proof [or conviction] of what is not seen.
Hebrews 11:1 (HCSB)

Choosing to engage our faith – in other words, choosing to say and hold to the “I believe” – comes before the reality of seeing – it is the place where hope lives.

Do you want to have hope? Choose to believe God and His Word. Every day, in every moment, in every circumstances, in every inadequacy, in every discouragement. Choose to believe that God is able.

I’m not asking you to believe that you can do whatever God calls you to do. I’m asking you to believe that He can do it. That He is able.

I know that’s not always easy. But it is where hope lives. When you believe God is able, hope rises in your heart and your spirit.

Even though believing isn’t always easy, there’s an element that’s even harder – choosing to believe means more than simply saying and holding to the “I believe”, it means living the “I believe.”

It isn’t enough, to simply say “I believe” – even if you are believing with all your heart. It must be lived! Faith is living in that confidence that God is the God of the impossible. Living in a way that shows you believe He is able to do the impossible in your life. Not just in Abraham’s and Isaac’s and Jacob’s lives. Not just in the Apostle Peter’s life and in Paul’s life and in John’s life. But in your life and in my life.

And if it’s true that God is able to do the impossible in our lives (and it is), then no matter what our circumstances or physical abilities are, we have a choice to make over and over again many times every day – to believe and live in hope or to back away from it.

Friends, I am exhorting us today not to back away from believing God. Don’t back away from hope.

Let’s return to Ephesians 3:20:

“Now to Him who is able” – Lord we believe that You are able – to do what? “more than all we can ask or imagine.” This verse jumped off the page at me during a Bible study in early November. I felt like God was challenging me to improve my imagination. If God can do more than that, I want to imagine more.

Later, however, I noticed a little word that hadn’t hit my radar before. Scripture says “more than ALL we ask or imagine.” Not more than a little bit of what I can imagine, or some of what I can imagine, but more than all I can ask or imagine.

That’s what the God who is able can do! Lord, I believe you are able. Improve my imagination, give me bigger dreams. And help me choose to believe that you can do it all – that You can do more than all of it.

And even as I say that, the enemy whispers, but…but… you’re 58 years old…you can’t jump as high as you used to jump and you can’t run as fast as you used to run…you have obligations to take care of parents who live 50 miles away…you are overwhelmed with work sometimes…you’re tired…you’re…

And so I am tempted to step back from hope. But the Lord is prompting us to say… “Get thee behind me satan.” “Lord, I choose to believe that you are able to do immeasurably more than all I can ask or imagine.”

Hallelujah! Are you with me? Do you believe that God is able?

Well if so, hang on because there’s more to this verse.

As if God’s ability to do more isn’t exciting enough, here’s the part that I get super jazzed about…How is he going to do that immeasurably more, that exceedingly abundantly more? By the power IN US.

The power – the word is dunamis – the word from which we get dynamite. The explosive power. Miraculous power. When you read the words “mighty works” or “miracles” in the gospels, it is probably the word dunamis in the Greek.

In Chapter 1 of Ephesians, Paul prayed for the Ephesians to know God’s “incomparably great power” – dunamis (Eph 1:19). He went on to say something about that power – He said that the incomparably great, dunamis power, is the same power that He “exerted in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly realms.” (Eph 1:20).

God is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to the power that is work within us – that dunamis power that raised Christ from the dead.

Wow!

The word dunamis occurs in many places, but I want to share one curious place. In Matthew chapter 13 we have the story of Jesus returning to his hometown.

54[Jesus] went to His hometown and began to teach them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished and said, “How did this wisdom and these miracles come to Him? 55Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t His mother called Mary, and His brothers James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas? 56And His sisters, aren’t they all with us? So where does He get all these things?”

57And they were offended by Him. But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his household.”

58And He did not do many miracles there because of their unbelief.
Matthew 13:54-58 (HCSB)

That word “miracles” in verse 58 – it’s dunamis.

Friends, I don’t want to limit or diminish God’s use of His dunamis power in my life because of my unbelief. I want to believe God’s Word that says He is able.

Now to Him who is able to do immeasureably more…by the power – dunamis – at work in us.

We’ve answered the question “is God able?” – how about the question “does He really want to work through me?” Does He really want to work through you? Ephesians 2:10 answers that for us:

For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Ephesians 2:10 (NIV)

We were created for a purpose – to do things that God has prepared for us to do. We are not here by happenstance. We are not living in our community, seeing the people we see, going to the places we go by happenstance.

There is a verse in Acts that says God determined the exact times and places where we should live. It’s not happenstance.

God has worked in your history, setting things in motion, preparing you and preparing the world in which you live, for the good works that He’s called you to.

Did you get that? God has worked in your history, setting things in motion, preparing you and preparing the world in which you live, for the good works that He’s called you to.

And that, friends, is what I get jazzed about that. That gives me hope on a day to day, even hour by hour, basis. When life gets boring, I know that God is working – using His dunamis power in me to accomplish immeasurably more than all I can ask or imagine to accomplish the good works He’s prepared in advance for me to do. When life gets tough, I know that God is working. When life is good, I know that God is working. In all the situations, God is working in and through me…if I continue to pursue Him. If I plug myself into the plan. Because the sad news is that at any moment, I can choose to step out.

I want to encourage all of us not to step out of God’s plan. As we look into the new year, tell God you want to plug into the plans He has for you. And then believe it is happening. Live in that place of faith and hope, whether you see it or not.

Here’s an important point, though: God’s dunamis power doesn’t always look like a TNT explosion. It is at work in the every day things. I can be sitting listening to a message at church, and the pastor can say something that rocks my world. And those around me won’t have a clue. My husband may not even have a clue until I tell him. But in my spirit something arises that spurs me on to love God more and to serve God more. And that is no less an example of God’s dunamis power than the more explosive, miracle workings we think of. When God works in one person’s heart to grow in obedience and love for Him, eternity watches with anticipation to see what God will do next, how He will use his dunamis power in that person’s life.

The works God’s created for us to do may very well be low-key acts of obedience – offering a cold cup of water to a prophet, for example. And here’s a cool thing – God promises us that when we do that, we will receive the prophets reward! (Matthew 10:40-42) Why, because we believed that God was working through us, so by faith we acted. And our cold cup of water enabled that prophet, that evangelist, that Sunday school or Bible study teacher, that preacher, that missionary, that lay person, to accomplish the work God has prepared for him or her.

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.
Hebrews 11:1 (NIV)

And so we act, we step into the good works that God has prepared for us to do. We say, “Lord, thank you for using me today. What small or large work do you have for me to do? I believe it will have impact throughout all eternity.”

That’s how I want to approach life.

Here’s my hope and confidence: Some day, I will be sitting with the Lord, and someone will come up to me and they will say “Sandy, you don’t know me, but I’ve been looking forward to meeting you. In 1981 you led a girls club and you encouraged the girls to share Christ with a friend. I was a friend of one of those girls.” And a while later someone will come up to me and say “Sandy, you wrote that blog and it woke me up out of the spiritual slumber I was in.” Or “you preached that message and made it so simple that I understood for the first time that God wanted to use me.” Or “you shared that facebook post and it made me angry but I couldn’t get it out of my head.” Or “Sandy, you built that Operation Christmas Child shoebox or gave that offering and someone worlds away from you introduced me to Christ.”

Friends, I get jazzed about that. That’s my greatest reason for having hope on a day-to-day basis. And not just that, but for what follows it – that person I impacted will impact someone else who will impact someone else who will impact someone else…should the Lord tarry.

It’s not that I have visions of grandeur. It’s not that I’m so great. Quite the opposite! I have confidence – faith – in my God to do phenomenally cool and exciting things – to use His dunamis power in and through me…if I let Him. If I give Him control. If I follow His lead. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from ballroom dance lessons, it’s that two people can’t lead. One must follow. That’s my job. I’m the follower. It often goes against my nature, but that’s what being conformed to the image of Christ is all about – conforming my will to His.

Lord, as I look forward to 2015, help me hold onto faith – that place where hope lives – believing that You are able to do cool and amazing things that will impact eternity through my typically ordinary life.

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Recently God reminded me of a very important principle in Scripture. He reminded me as I was reading one morning in Isaiah:

God awakens my ear in the morning to listen.
Isaiah 50:4

Every morning when God awakens us, He does so for one purpose – to listen to His voice. His desire is that we begin each day listening for His voice.

The theme is carried over in the New Testament. In the book of Revelation, for example, Jesus urges over and over again, “let everyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit says.”

Yet I find that it’s often so much easier to wake up in the morning and listen, instead of to the Lord, to the radio or the television or the first person we see. Often, we allow them to set the tone for our day.

Imagine, however, if we asked God to help us listen to His voice every morning. What kinds of things would He say to us?

I’m writing to Christians today – people who have asked God to forgive them of their sins and take control of their lives. If you haven’t done that, you can do so at any time. Check out this blog to learn more.

If you are a Christian, here are some of the things God would say to you each morning:

God would say: “You’re forgiven.”

He forgives all my sins and heals all my diseases.
Psalm 103:3 (NLT)

When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins.
Colossians 2:13 (NIV)

I am writing to you who are God’s children because your sins have been forgiven through Jesus.
1 John 2:12 (NLT)

What does that simple phrase “You’re forgiven” mean? It means that the separation that existed between you and God has been put back together. Scripture describes us as being at war with God because of our sin, but we have been reconciled – brought back together.

It means that we can live in the freedom of knowing that we are accepted by God without reservation. There’s nothing you or I have done that God isn’t ready to forgive. Scripture says that if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

And it means we will one day spend eternity in heaven. Being forgiven brings us freedom in this life and eternity with God in the next life. It doesn’t get much better than that.

Not only would God say “You’re forgiven”, He’d also say: “You are loved.”

But the love of the LORD remains forever with those who fear him. His salvation extends to the children’s children
Psalm 103:17 (NLT)

Long ago the LORD said to Israel: “I have loved you, my people, with an everlasting love. With unfailing love I have drawn you to myself.
Jeremiah 31:3 (NLT)

I have loved you even as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love.
John 15:9 (NLT)

Knowing we are loved gives us courage to live the life that God has prepared for us. I don’t know about you, but it makes me smile every time I think about it. You are special to God. You are loved. Deeply loved.

God would say: “I gotcha! Don’t be afraid. I’ve got your back. Whatever comes your way – I’m with you.”

27My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. 28I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one can snatch them away from me, 29for my Father has given them to me, and he is more powerful than anyone else. No one can snatch them from the Father’s hand.
John 10:27-29 (NLT)

God is our protection. He has our back! No one can snatch us from His hand. But there’s another element to God having our back. Not only is it His protection, it’s also His provision.

And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:19 (NIV)

By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence.
2 Peter 1:3 (NLT)

Friends, for those of us who have trusted Christ as our Savior, when we listen to God’s voice in the morning, we face the day knowing that we are loved, that we are forgiven, that there’s nothing that will come up during the day that God we have to face alone.

God’s reminder that He awakens me to listen was one I needed to hear. It came after a very long time of being very busy. Yes, I kept reading my Bible during that time. Yes, I prayed regularly. But at some point, I wasn’t lingering with God. You know, Phil and I have our best conversations when we’re not rushing from one thing to another. The same is true with God. I am being more purposeful about lingering over my Bible reading and prayers. And every morning, I am reminding myself that I am forgiven, I am loved and God’s got my back. I gotta tell you – it’s  a great way to start each day!

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Zoey Grace, moments after her birth.

Zoey Grace, moments after her birth.

At 6:24 on 4/26 – 6:24 in the morning on April 26 – a lullaby rang through the halls of St. David’s Medical center.

That lullaby was an announcement to the world of the birth of Zoey Grace Martinez.

This was Zoey’s birth day – the day of her birth.

There was rejoicing in the hospital when we heard the lullaby because we knew what it meant. Zoey had breathed her first breath of life outside her mother’s womb.

There is Rejoicing in Heaven

I was reminded that Scripture says that there is rejoicing in heaven when one sinner turns to the Lord (Luke 15:7). Rejoicing over my birth! Rejoicing over your birth! Wow!

Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

What a miracle that first breath is. In the womb, a baby’s lungs are filled with amniotic fluid. Near the end of pregnancy, the baby actually breathes the amniotic fluid in and out as they take practice breaths. Were they to do that outside the womb, they would drown. But inside the womb, somehow it prepares them for breathing air soon.

Then, suddenly, the baby enters the world and instantly they can breathe air. What an amazing and miraculous thing! “We are fearfully and wonderfully made,” Scripture says (Psalm 139:14). The New Living Translation puts it this way:

13You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and
knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex!
Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it.
15You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion,
as I was woven together in the dark of the womb.
16You saw me before I was born.
Every day of my life was recorded in your book.
Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.
Psalm 139:13-16 (NLT)

As you read the passage, do you feel the loving care of the Creator as you were created? The angels rejoice when we are born again…but it was the Lord who carefully knits us together before we were born.

Profoundly Impacted

I was blessed to be in the hospital room while Zoey’s mom was in labor and in the halls of the hospital, right outside the nursery window waiting as Zoey was born. And I was profoundly impacted. God revealed His love for me in a way that was fresh revelation for me. And I was blown away by it. I want to share that revelation with you. I hope you are changed by it as I’ve been

He Loved Us First

About eighteen hours prior to her birth, the long labor process began. I was one of about a dozen people at the hospital, watching, encouraging, praying and rejoicing.

I watched as Zoey’s mom would have painful contractions and Zoey’s dad would come over and rub her back to help her through the pain. The contractions would come more frequently and then less frequently. She eventually got pain medication and then the day just went on and on…and on and on.

I couldn’t help but see the relationship between our physical birth and our spiritual birth. Just as there are labor pains that bring physical birth there are spiritual labor pains that bring spiritual birth.

When I think back to my own coming to the Lord, I remember the ebb and flow of the process. There would be a spark of interest, then there would be a kicking against the truth. And there would be a drawing near to God and then a pushing away…A drawing near and a pushing away. All the while Phil was there trying to coax me along, helping me over the trouble spots. It took quite a while for me to be born again. For a long time, I just wasn’t ready to be born. But the Lord kept calling me. I’m so thankful that God is persistent.

Zoey wasn’t ready to be born for a long time either. Her poor mama was in labor for eighteen hours. During that time, what really impressed me was how very much her parents loved her. What they were willing to go through just to bring her into this world is a testament to the love they have for her – even before she was born.

Scripture says that “While we were still sinners Christ loved us.” “While we were yet sinners Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8, NIV) That’s how God showed His love for us. He loved me first, and He loved me fully and with His life. He loved you first – fully and with His life.

Again, the spiritual implications have just blown me away. Seeing what these earthly parents were willing to go through…seeing their love in action – love that is so imperfect compared to the love of God, love that is so shallow compared to the love of God – seeing that gave me a glimpse of how very much God loves His children.

Extravagant Love – How Can I Ever Be Afraid of the Future?

He not only forms each of us in our mother’s womb, miraculously creates us so that we can breathe air the instant we leave the womb – He not only created us for our first birth, He then bought us back after we had sold ourselves into slavery. He paid the price so that we could be born a second time – free from the condemnation and ultimate consequence of our sins. Christ’s suffering on the cross was another sort of birth pains, another sort of labor pains. He hung on the cross while God heaped the sins of the world upon Him…so that I could be set free from those sins…so that I could live not just 70 or 80 or 90 years here on earth, but for eternity.

That’s love in action.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only son that whoever believes in Him, whoever hopes and trusts in Him, should not perish but would have everlasting life.” (John 3:16) 

“But God demonstrated His love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

Well, there’s one other thing that I experienced that day that is so over the top it has led me to ask – it has held me in the place of asking – with the Apostle Paul, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31) In other words – “Since God loves us so incredibly, how can I ever be afraid of the future?

“This One’s Ours”

I’ve never been a baby person. Phil and I are childless by choice. Shortly after Zoey was born I sent pictures to Phil and he said “Sandy, All babies look alike.” And I said, “I know…but this one’s different.” The truth is that I was experiencing so much love for Zoey and I couldn’t figure out why. I just knew that “this one’s different.” Not different in terms of her outward beauty – she’s a baby. Yes, she’s an adorable baby, but objectively, she’s just a baby like any other baby. But there was nothing objective about Zoey. Somehow she was different. It took a while for me to verbalize it, but when Phil said “All babies look alike” I knew what it was. This baby – baby Zoey – is different and the way she’s different is that she is ours.

“This one is ours.” That’s the phrase that kept going through my mind. “This one is ours.” It is impossible to put into words the full implication of that phrase, but it embodies a fierce love and protectiveness and so much more. “This one is ours.”

Now Zoey is not mine in any sense of the word. I’m the great aunt that lives a couple thousand miles away. (Or put more specifically, a thousand dollars away, because that’s about what it costs to visit her (oh – and her mom and dad and other family members.) By the time she’s 16, I’ll be lucky if I see her a dozen times. And given my lousy track record for sending packages, she’ll be lucky to get a dozen packages from me.

Still, I couldn’t get the phrase out of my mind… “This one is ours.”

And God continued to impress upon me His great, great love for us. That He looks down…or over…Scripture says He’s with us all the time, so it’s not really a looking down. But God looks at us and says “this one is mine.” “This one is mine.” “I created that one,” He says, “and I went to great lengths to buy her back.” “She’s mine.”

And I’m blown away.

How much does that God  love me, and how much would a God like that protect me, lead me and care for me? A God who has already done what he’s done, gone through what He’s gone through for my birth – how far would He go to help me? And knowing that He feels toward me much the same way I feel toward Zoey, only to a significantly greater degree than I feel toward Zoey – He says “This one’s mine” – knowing that, how can I ever be afraid? How can I ever not trust Him?

Leaving Me is Not in His DNA – He Can’t Do It

Zoey, about one day old

Zoey, about one day old

Scripture says He will never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). I don’t think He can, even if he wanted to. He doesn’t want to, but I don’t think he could leave us or forsake us even if He wanted to. Is there anything God can’t do? That’s a question theologians can argue, but I don’t think He can leave us or forsake us. Because He looks down and says “This one’s mine.”

Long ago the LORD said to Israel: “I have loved you, my people, with an everlasting love. With unfailing love I have drawn you to myself. (Jeremiah 31:3, NLT)

“This one’s mine.”

If God is For Us…

A few days after returning home, I came to Romans 8 in my Bible reading. “If God is for us, who can be against us?” Let me translate it in light of my recent experience and all of Scripture – “if God who loves us so passionately – if the God who looks at me and says ‘This one’s mine’ – if that God is for me – and we know He is – what does it matter if anyone else is against me?”

Friends, every time I feel overwhelmed or scared for the future, I return to that moment when I realized that God says “This one’s mine” and I am filled with peace and joy.

If you’ve trusted Jesus as your Savior, you’re His, too. He rejoices over you. Rejoice in Him. And rest in His peace knowing He will never leave you and He will move heaven and earth for you.

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Dear brothers and sisters, I close my letter with these last words: Be joyful.
2 Corinthians 13:11a (NLT)

As I put the finishing touches on my last blog, I went to back to Scripture and looked up verses with the words “be joyful” in them. I found a lot of reasons for which we can be joyful. I didn’t think they belonged in the previous blog – that one seemed to be more restful than instructive. So let me follow it up with this list of reasons to be joyful.

Let me first say that there are many reasons people don’t allow themselves to experience joy. Guilt and fear are two of the most prominent.

  • Guilt that you are experiencing joy and others aren’t, guilt that you’re taking the time to experience joy when you should be doing any of a number of things, or guilt over anything the enemy can convince you to feel guilty about.
  • Fear that the joy will be taken away from you, fear that you have made a mistake (and therefore shouldn’t be relaxing in the joy), fear of living in general, or fear of anything the enemy can convince you to be afraid of.

My goal is to remind us that God wants us to be joyful and to identify some specific things that He’s told us to be joyful about. I want to open the door for the Holy Spirit to remove the guilt or fear that keeps you from experiencing joy, as well as open some new doors to rooms in which perhaps you’ve never experienced joy before.

Be Joyful for Holidays and Take Joy in Them

Be joyful at your Feast–you, your sons and daughters, your menservants and maidservants, and the Levites, the aliens, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns.
Deuteronomy 16:14 (NIV)

It may seem that I’m stretching this a bit, and perhaps I am, but in the Old Testament God established and commanded a series of feasts throughout the year. They had different purposes, but many were simply celebrations of God’s goodness and provision. Most Christians do not celebrate the Old Testament feasts. (I do not but think it would be a fascinating year if I were to incorporate all the feasts – and I’m guessing I would greatly benefit from it. If this interests you, the best approach may be to find a Messianic congregation to become a part of. Don’t be shy – go for it!)

I think we can extend the spirit of the feasts to recognize that God has given us times of rest and rejoicing and that we should be joyful in those. As I read about the Old Testament feasts, they seem like holy vacations that the Israelites were commanded to take each year! Vacations! Holidays! And they were commanded to take them! And they were to rejoice in them.

Incorporating the Lord in your next vacation is another blog waiting to be written, but suffice it to say in this blog that you can enjoy your vacations! Take them responsibly (that is, don’t spend the money for your next mortgage payment on them), then enjoy them.

Be Joyful in Your Success

Seven days you shall celebrate a feast to the LORD your God in the place which the LORD chooses, because the LORD your God will bless you in all your produce and in all the work of your hands, so that you will be altogether joyful.
Deuteronomy 16:115 (NIV)

You will enjoy the fruit of your labor. How joyful and prosperous you will be!
Psalm 128:2 (NLT)

We’re not to be prideful when we’ve completed a job well and when we are successful, but we are to take joy in it. “God will bless…all the work of your hands so that you will be altogether joyful.” God blesses us for many reasons, but this verse tells us that one of those reasons is to increase our enjoyment of life – to increase our joy. So don’t feel guilty about your success. Enjoy it!

Experience the Joy of God’s Protection and His Refuge

But let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them sing joyful praises forever. Spread your protection over them, that all who love your name may be filled with joy.
Psalm 5:11 (NLT)

We can have joy because we know – we know – that God is our defender. When it seems like the world is against us, we can be joyful in God – in the One who knows us best and defends. In the one who says “that one is mine.”

We can look for the adventure because God will work it out. He will come riding in on a white horse and save us. What joy that will be! That’s the shouting kind of joy.

In the meantime, He gives us a place of refuge and we can rejoice in that. That’s the quiet, inner peace kind of joy.

Be Joyful in God’s Salvation

And my soul shall be joyful in the LORD;
It shall rejoice in His salvation.
Psalm 35:9 (NKJV)

So the ransomed of the LORD will return And come with joyful shouting to Zion, And everlasting joy will be on their heads. They will obtain gladness and joy, And sorrow and sighing will flee away.
Isaiah 51:11 (NASB)

God has saved you. Rejoice in His love and in your salvation. Don’t just celebrate, meditate on it so that you experience the joy of freedom that is possible through the salvation He has given you. We have been ransomed! We were slaves to sin. Christ paid the ransom to set us free. That’s how much He loves us. Rejoice! Be joyful!

Be Joyful in Knowing that God will Rescue You

25:10  [The Lord says:] “I will take away your happy singing and laughter. The joyful voices of bridegrooms and brides will no longer be heard. Your millstones will fall silent, and the lights in your homes will go out.”

33:10“This is what the LORD says: You have said, ‘This is a desolate land where people and animals have all disappeared.’ Yet in the empty streets of Jerusalem and Judah’s other towns, there will be heard once more 11the sounds of joy and laughter. The joyful voices of bridegrooms and brides will be heard again, along with the joyous songs of people bringing thanksgiving offerings to the LORD. They will sing, ‘Give thanks to the LORD of Heaven’s Armies, for the LORD is good. His faithful love endures forever!’ For I will restore the prosperity of this land to what it was in the past, says the LORD.
Jeremiah 25:10 , 33:10-11 (NLT)

No matter what you’ve done or where you have been exiled – God will rescue you because you are His. No matter how dark your situation seems today, God will turn it around. Sorrow may last for the night, but joy comes in the morning – and there’s always a morning after every night.

Be Joyful Knowing that You Are Loved

The LORD your God is with you; the mighty One will save you. He will rejoice over you. You will rest in his love; he will sing and be joyful about you.
Zephaniah 3:17 (NCV)

For the LORD your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.
Zephaniah 3:17 (NLT)

Not only can we take joy in God’s salvation – or rather, the salvation He has given us – we can be joyful knowing the joy He takes in us. We sing in worship to the Lord. We sing for joy when life is good. God sings for joy about us! Wow! The Creator of the Universe rejoices over me. I am blown away by that.

Be Joyful Because You Have Hope

Be joyful because you have hope. Be patient when trouble comes, and pray at all times.
Romans 12:12 (NCV)

There is no such thing as hopeless for the one who Trusts in Christ. We always have hope. Always. And that’s reason enough to rejoice. As I said earlier, we can experience life as an adventure, watching with anticipation to see how God is going to come through in the current challenge…and the next one and the next one.

Friends joy need not be an elusive thing for the believer. When our hearts, minds and spirits are focused on these things, we can have joy – abundant joy. It’s part of the “abundant life” package God has given us.

Enjoy it!

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God created each of us uniquely – we’re all wired differently. When life causes those wires to get twisted, things inside us begin to go haywire. A few days and we’re just a little out of sorts. A week or two and satan is there at our side ready to capture us with temptations to return to old sinful patterns or try new ones. I’m sure you’ve been there. Too much work, too many crises, too much isolation or too little adventure and you’re ready to jump at change.

Usually that change isn’t following God. Yes, God can bring us to a state of holy discontent which launches us into a new ministry or new level of intimacy with Him. A holy discontent isn’t the same as a life that has gone haywire.

Whether we like to admit it or not, it is routine (which sometimes become tradition) which grounds us, and it is that grounding that we need when our wires get jumbled.

This morning, I returned to my Saturday morning pattern of sitting in my reclining chair alone with God. For a number of years, I have reserved my Saturday mornings for time with God. It was His idea – He began waking me up early on the only day of the week I could sleep in. And I love to sleep in. At first I was frustrated every week when I awoke early no matter what time I went to bed Friday night. Eventually I remembered one of my life rules – if something out of the ordinary happens repeatedly and it’s not sin, it must be God! It’s not rocket science, but sometimes I’m a bit slow at recognizing the hand of God.

So I started getting up when God woke me and going to my reclining chair, sitting, reading, writing and praying. It had become such a special time each week.

Then life got really crazy. I remained consistent with reading and praying throughout the week, but I missed my Saturday mornings with God.

This morning, after taking the dog for a walk, I am back in my reclining chair with my laptop. Ahhhh….I feel grounded in a way I haven’t for a couple of months. Simply being here, reading, writing, and praying has calmed me in a way I’ve been missing. That’s what grounding is. It takes the negative sparks of energy and dissipates them. Ahhhhh…..

My daily reading and prayer ground me, but they are more of a maintenance level grounding. My Saturday mornings are my reboot and refresh level grounding.

Each of us is grounded by many things throughout the day. Here’s just a few of things other than Bible reading and prayer that ground me throughout the day:

  • I like to stir my tea. Most people stir their coffee or tea or hot chocolate once and then take the spoon out and drink their tea. I leave my spoon in and before I take each sip I stir my tea. The motion of stirring the tea is very calming for me.
  • I pause to kiss my husband and tell him how important he is to me.
  • I stop what I’m doing and evaluate my to-do list and schedule. That causes my husband stress. It grounds me.
  • I take a dance break when a great song comes on the radio at work. (Fortunately, I am not subjecting coworkers to my dancing. Typically I am working alone or with my husband in our basement office.)

How about you? What is it that grounds you? Perhaps a date with your husband or dinner as a family are things that calm your world. Maybe it’s reading a good book before bed or exercising or cooking or cleaning. (Man, I wish cleaning calmed me. It doesn’t.) Maybe it’s snuggling with your children at night or sitting on the porch in the morning with your Bible and coffee. It’s important to take time to do the things that bring calm into your life.

It’s critically important that connecting with God be a part of your grounding. There are a number of ways to do that:

  • Read your Bible and pray daily. This daily connection with God, even if it is shorter on some days than on others, keeps you grounded on a regular basis. It needs to be enhanced by those weekly, more intense times with Him, but it provides a minimal safety net when life goes crazy. If I had not maintained this pattern over the past few months of craziness, I can’t imagine how off-kilter I would be today.
  • Meet with God’s people regularly – go to church! Some think that attending a regular Bible study is a substitute for church. I would caution against that. There are few Bible studies that provide the corporate worship experience that a church gathering does. That experience includes worshiping together with other believers and being inspired and instructed through His Word. Each one of those activities are part of our grounding with God. Each provides a different interaction with Him. Most Bible studies provide fellowship and study, lacking intimate worship and inspiration.
  • Enjoy a weekly Sabbath. God created and commanded the Sabbath for many reasons, but one of them is as a gift to His children – a gift of time set aside to reconnect with Him – to become fully grounded before facing the world for another week. Read more about the Sabbath and the joy of keeping it in my series of blogs that start with this one.

For me, the above three activities are non-negotiable for staying grounded in God. Do I miss reading my Bible some days? Yes. Do I miss church some weeks? Yes. Do enjoy a weekly Sabbath every week? No. I’m not perfect in anything yet. Still, I protect each of those activities pretty fiercely, committing to them even when it’s inconvenient or I just plain don’t feel like it. Because God is faithful and will meet us when we make the sacrifice to meet with Him.

So, friends, I ask again: what is it that grounds you? Is God in the mix? Does He play a prominent enough role in your grounding routines? Let me encourage you to find those things that ground you, and especially those things that connect you to God, and make them part of your routine. Then fiercely guard those routines. Because life without grounding isn’t pretty or fun!

Symptoms that you need more grounding:

  • Impatience – When I’m in the car and all the drivers around me seem to be out to get me or determined to make me late, I need more grounding.
  • Quick to become annoyed or angry – When clients call with routine inquires and I get annoyed, I need more grounding.
  • Always tired – When everything seems a chore because I’m just so tired, I need more grounding. (You might think it’s sleep that I need – it is – and when I’m well grounded, I sleep well.)
  • Lacking in creativity – When I have no solutions to the challenges of life, I need more grounding. It means I’m just going through the emotions and grounding dissipates the negative energy and infuses us with positive energy. Positive energy brings creativity.
  • Seeking escape – When all I can think about is getting away or vegging in front of the television after work, I need more grounding. Grounding is our escape and takes away the need for an escape.
  • Always making excuses – That’s called sin. “The woman you gave me caused me to do it.” Those were Adam’s words to God after he also ate the fruit of the tree. He was blaming both his wife and God with that single statement. When I am well grounded, I am able to call sin “sin.” I am able to confess my sin to God and others and enjoy forgiveness and freedom.

If you looked at this list of symptoms and recognize that you experience many of them (and perhaps made excuses for why you experience them), you need more grounding in your life. Yes, your life is hectic and crazy; and yes, there may be others in your life that impact your ability to develop your grounding routines. But God – those magically inspiring words – but God can change that when you ground yourself and your life in Him. Find those grounding patterns, create those grounding patterns, and fiercely protect them.

You will be honoring God and He will honor you. You will begin to experience the peace that surpasses all understanding. Perhaps not tomorrow – because some of us need a major rewiring before we can become grounded – but God can and will do it! He’s that creative with solutions and He’s that good!

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The Old Testament clearly portrays the Messiah as both a suffering servant and a conquering King, but the concept of the Messiah coming as a suffering servant was so beyond anything the Israelites could embrace, they were looking only for the conquering King.

What happens when Jesus is not who you expect Him to be?

The Pharisees and Saducees took offense. They allowed their pride to take the lead, blinding them to the real Messiah because He didn’t come as the conquering King. Instead of pausing, listening, watching and – most importantly – praying for discernment, the assumed they were right so anything or anyone who didn’t match their expectations was wrong. And they missed the miracle of the Messiah.

I don’t want to miss the miracle because I allow my pride to overshadow God’s messenger and message.

You know, the disciples were also expecting a conquering Messiah. Yet they watched as Jesus was killed by their fellow Jews. I can only imagine how devastated they felt. Then, hearing that He was alive – how very confused they must have been! I’m sure they were devastated by the week’s events, but trying desperately to hold onto hope. Then, suddenly, Jesus came into the room where they had locked themselves away because they were so afraid of the Jews. But Thomas was not among them, and upon hearing about it, he chose not to believe the men he had walked beside for the previous three years.

25So the other disciples were saying to him, “We have seen the Lord!”

But he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.”
John 20:25 (NASB)

Jesus did the unexpected and Thomas doubted. I don’t know, but I wonder if it was bitterness that caused Thomas to react as he did – bitterness born out of shattered hopes and dreams. The Messiah had been crucified. He had made them so many promises. Then God allowed Him to be crucified. Thomas had given up everything to follow Jesus. Now Jesus had abandoned Him. He had believed Jesus when Jesus proclaimed to be God. How could he have been such a fool?!

Shattered hopes have a way of worming their way into our thinking and turning everything upside down. Bitterness is often the byproduct of such upside down thinking.

26A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”

27Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

28Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
John 20:26-28 (NIV)

Jesus can cut through upside down thinking, and upon seeing Jesus, Thomas let go of his bitterness and doubt. He immediately humbled himself before the King. It no longer mattered whether Jesus came as a conquering King or a humble one – He was still worthy of being “my Lord and my God!”

How do you respond when Jesus is not as you expect Him to be? Do you “require” Him to prove himself before you believe? Thomas did and Jesus was gracious and merciful enough to do so. Jesus went on to say that those who believe without requiring such proof are supremely blessed.

Yet how do we keep from being deceived? That’s the question that pops into my mind as I write about believing even when we don’t have full understanding. I think the key is in staying close to Jesus. What should happen when Jesus is not as we expect Him to be? It should drive us to our knees in prayer and into our Bibles in study. When He’s not what we expect, perhaps we need to get to know Him better.

Finally, remember that you are seeing just a glimpse of the whole picture. The story of the conversion of the Ethiopian Eunuch teaches us this is (Acts 8:31-34).

What’s interesting is that the Ethiopian Eunuch was reading about the suffering servant and Philip came along and “began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.” (Acts 8:35, NIV)

Philip taught the Ethiopian the good news about Jesus from a passage Isaiah 53:7-8, which includes phrases like “He was led like a sheep to the slaughter” and “In his humiliation he was deprived of justice…For his life was taken from the earth.”

What happens when Jesus is not who you expect Him to be? Remember that you are seeing only a small part of His plan. Remember that He is the author of bringing good out of bad.

Jesus was not who the Jews expected. They expected the Jesus who is still to come, the One who will be a conquering King. But their pride caused them to miss the first King – the One who would forgive them and be merciful to them.

What Happens When Jesus is Not Who You Expect Him to Be? Sometimes you just have to love Him in spite of your limited understanding.

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Now that we are in the short respite between Christmas and New Year’s, I thought I’d share with you the focus of my December meditations. My month was a bit too hectic to get this into a blog earlier, but perhaps God’s timing is at play and you will have a greater opportunity to absorb this today. I know this is a long blog, but I’m confident that you’ll be blessed by it. Take a few minutes in your devotions to read and meditate on it. God will bless you as He has me.

In late November, God brought to mind a story about my dad. His name was Pat. After his funeral we were sitting in my step-mom’s living room and my aunt said something very special to me. She said “Everyone knew when you kids were little, you better not touch any of you kids or you’ll have to answer to Pat.” I’ll make it personal – “You better not touch sandy, or you’ll have to answer to Pat!” Now that obviously was a very special thing for me to hear. It was wonderful to hear how much my dad loved me. But that wasn’t the lesson God had for me in reminding me of that conversation. The lesson for me was that I didn’t know my dad that way. By the time I reached an age when I remember things, my dad was an over-the-road truck driver so he was only home every other day to sleep. And when he wasn’t sleeping he and mom were arguing. Now I knew my dad loved me, but I didn’t know the dad that my aunt told me about.

The message God had for me was that, while I know God, there are many other ways to know Him. He is so much more and so much bigger than the little bit that I know of him. So my prayer became “Lord, reveal yourself to me in a new way this year during the Christmas season.” Along with that was the thought that when I preached in December maybe I would preach about the extravagant love of God that is embodied in the birth of Christ.

And I’m so excited about the passage God led me to study those themes. My December message was a special one. And when I finished preparing it, God led me to a worship song that fit perfectly. I had apparently bought it about a year ago and then promptly forgot about it. It totally expresses my heart as I prepared this message. Before I share the message with you, let’s listen to the song.

“Let Me Rediscover You” by Downhere

Oh, Lord, let us rediscover you this week. Don’t let this season end until we’ve seen you in a new and glorious way. Reveal Yourself to us, Lord. We want to see you and cry holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come. We want to worship the God who came to earth and returned to heaven. All for me. Amen!

God took me to the book of John. Now I have to admit – many people love the book of John, but it’s never been my favorite!

A common question new believers ask is “what should I read” and many people tell them to read the book of John. I don’t get that.

In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God.”
John 1:1 (KJV)

Say what? Quite honestly, that’s never done much for me. But God…He brought it alive to me this this year. We’re going to look at it in the New Living Translation

1In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He existed in the beginning with God.
John 1:1-2 (NLT)

At the simple reading of this, we don’t know that the Word is Jesus, but as we get further into the passage, it becomes clear. So, knowing that it is Jesus, what does the verse tell us?

Well, the first thing it tells us is that there was a time that God refers to as “the beginning” and God existed before that – He existed before the beginning of time. That’s why we call him the everlasting God, the eternal God – He existed before the beginning, He exists now, and he will exist beyond the end. That boggles my brain. But it’s true. There’s absolutely nothing I can do with that statement except accept it by faith. And worship.

We don’t worship a God who was born on a given day in human history and then died on a given day in history. Yes, Jesus did those things.

But in order for him to do those things, He had to step out of eternity and into the boundaries of human time. Think about that for a minute. We often focus on Jesus coming and dying for our sins and are amazed that He would do such a thing…and we should be amazed…but think about the bigger picture for a minute. Lose the “what’s in it for me” mindset that we all have, and think about the process.

Jesus existed before the beginning of human time. Jesus was with God. Jesus was God.

There’s a lot I don’t understand about the spiritual realm. One thing I’m pretty sure of is that it’s beyond my imagination and understanding with a WOW factor to the nth degree.

Jesus existed in that realm with God before the beginning of time.

And just in case you have developed a hierarchy in your mind that consciously or subconsciously considers Jesus less than God – I mean it only makes sense, right – The Bible says that Jesus is the Son and God is the Father; it also says that God sent His Son to die for our sins…so it only makes sense that God is greater than Jesus. Just in case you have started thinking that way, John includes that last phrase of verse 1 “and the Word was God.”

So not only did Jesus exist before time, and not only did He exist with God, but He is God. Scripture says if you have seen the Son – that is Jesus – then you have seen the Father. That’s not a “like father like son” statement – that’s a statement of the reality that the Father and Son (and the Holy Spirit) are one.

In those two verses, John starts his introduction to the Christmas story by making sure we understand that the One who came to earth is the One who existed before the beginning of time and is God Himself.

Let’s go on, starting again with verse 1:

1In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He existed in the beginning with God.  3God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him.
John 1:1-3 (NLT)

Here we have a new piece of information. That God created the world through Jesus. Jesus was the force behind the creation of everything. Jesus was the power that God used to create the world. Jesus was the creativity that God used to create the world.

The word translated “created” is a form of the verb “to be” – so we could also translate the sentence “Everything is” or “all things are” or “all things exist” because Jesus created them.

Now there’s another passage that describes creation – Let’s look briefly at Genesis 1:

1In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. 3And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. 5God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning–the first day.
Genesis 1:1-5 (NIV)

God spoke and Jesus, the Word, created light.

God spoke and Jesus, the Word, created heaven and earth.

God spoke and Jesus, the Word, created land and the oceans.

God spoke and Jesus, the Word, created – as it says in John chapter 1 – everything – all things – nothing was created without Him.

Let’s go back to John 1:

1In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He existed in the beginning with God. 3God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him. 4The Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone.
John 1:1-4 (NLT)

Jesus gave life to everything that was created. It was Jesus who breathed life into Adam. And His life brought light to everyone.

Jesus was the creator of life at the beginning of time, He is the giver of new life for those who follow Him. He is the good shepherd who lays down his own life – who gives up his life – so that we might have life.

John writes more about the light:

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.
John 1:5 (NLT)

Other translations of verse 5 say the darkness has not “understood” or “comprehended” it. Interesting that they translated it as they did. The word used is katalambano, which is more frequently translated apprehended.

The verse that this blog takes its name from is Philippians 3:12. The Apostle Paul wrote:

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.
Philippians 3:12 (NIV)

Jesus, the source of all life creates light and the darkness is not able to apprehend or grasp it. I don’t want to be like the darkness. I want to live in the light. I want to grab hold of all that God has for me. I want to apprehend that for which Christ has apprehended me (as it’s worded in the King James Version).

Skip down to verse 10:

He [Jesus] came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him.
John 1:10 (NLT)

Jesus, who existed before the beginning of time, who is God. Jesus, the one who created all things, who breathed the breath of life into Adam, gives life to all things. Jesus came into the very world He created…but the world didn’t recognize Him.

Jesus stepped out of eternity to come into a world where His people said…”What? Who did you say you were? I don’t think so!”

I think perhaps that is a betrayal worse than His crucifixion. The complete betrayal of the world He created – they didn’t even recognize Him.

He came to his own people, and even they rejected him.
John 1:11 (NLT)

The ones who He called to be His very own. The ones He chose. The ones he chose again and again as they turned to idols made of wood instead of the One who gives all things life. The ones who chose power or money or fame or leisure or…any of the so many other things we turn to instead of God. The ones…they are us…we rejected Him. I rejected Him.

Isaiah foretold this when he wrote this about Jesus:

He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
Isaiah 53:3 (NIV)

Jesus left the heavenly realms – left the world of eternity to step into the world of human time – for this. To be despised and rejected. To not be recognized by His own people. To offer abundant life only to have His creation reject it.

That’s extravagant love. God knew. Jesus knew…that many would reject His tremendous gift of salvation. And still, He stepped out of eternity, took on the form of a man, living among the indignities of this world of disease and sin.

That’s extravagant love. There’s no other explanation. Jesus was born as a helpless baby so that we might experience the love of God. He gave it all up for you and me. That’s how much He loves us. He gave up heaven and lived the rejection and betrayal…so that we may become children of God.

12But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. 13They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God.
John 1:12-13 (NLT)

To all who believed and accepted Jesus – it’s not enough just to believe. You have to believe and accept – the word there is lambano – remember katalambano – this is just the second part of it, lambano – so the words are very similar. To all who grab hold of Jesus – to all who      believe and receive Him – to those people, He gave the right to become children of God. He gave them new life – reborn, not physically, but spiritually – He gave them (us) a new birth that comes from God.

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 (NLT)

That’s extravagant love. That the eternal God left behind the glories of heaven to show His glory to us, through the person Jesus. Jesus who created the world. Jesus who existed before the beginning – before time began. Jesus who gave up everything to show His extravagant love for me. So that I could become a child of God.  So that I could experience a new birth.

And for the sake of brevity, let’s skip to verse 18:

No one has ever seen God. But the one and only Son is himself God and is near to the Father’s heart. He has revealed God to us.
John 1:18 (NLT)

Jesus has revealed God to us. Whew!

Jesus is the baby who was born in the manger. Jesus is the man who lived a sinless life. Jesus is the One who died for my sins so that I might be reconciled to God and have eternal life now and forever more. But He’s so much more than that. Jesus is the eternal God who left heaven to reveal God to us.

That’s how extravagantly He loves us.

If you don’t know that love, talk to God. He specializes in revealing Himself to individuals. Ask Him to reveal Himself to you. My first prayer went something like this: “Lord, I don’t even know if you exist, but if you do, I want to know you.” I was 23 years old. God revealed Himself to me in a way that left me no doubt of His existence. And now, 34 years later, He continues to reveal the extravagance of His love to me. He’ll do the same to you.

May God bless you abundantly with His presence now and throughout the coming year. Ask Him to reveal Himself to you. He’ll do it.

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After a couple years of “practicing,” I began blogging in earnest on March 30, 2008. (My first blog is here. My March 30, 2008 blog is here.) That’s nearly six years ago. During those 269 weeks, there have only been 8 weeks when I didn’t post a blog. Why? Because it’s important to me to fulfill the call that God has on my life, and I believe that call includes blogging regularly. It doesn’t matter whether ten or ten thousand people are reading my blog. What matters is that I’m faithful and obedient. I’m not posting for the sake of posting. I’m posting because God has laid something on my heart and I’m a teacher, writer and speaker, so, like Jeremiah, if I don’t share it feels like “fire in my bones.”

Why do I tell you this today? Because it’s been seventeen days since my last blog. This is the longest I’ve gone without posting. Over the past month we have had extraordinarily short deadlines at work and other unexpected activities that simply left absolutely no time for writing and posting blogs. It’s been a pretty chaotic time and even when I’ve had the time to write blogs, I didn’t have time to post them.

The cool thing is that during the past couple of weeks, I have been very aware of my neglect of Apprehending Grace and totally at peace with it. I have a pretty strong sense of “ought to” that I regularly have to push away from. Over the past few weeks, God has taken care of that for me. So getting back into the swing of things, I thought I’d reflect on that peace and how it happened.

Things I Did Right

  • During this time, I very purposefully looked at my schedule each morning and asked God to identify the top priorities for the day. I’d pray, review my To Do list, pray again, then write numbers next to the tasks indicating their priority. I took time to do this no matter how busy we were. Each day I’d have “AppGrace blog” on the list. Each day it either didn’t get a number next to it, or the number was so low I never got to it. Because I had started the day asking God to put things in priority, I was able to sleep in peace each evening. I knew I was working as hard as I could, so if it didn’t get done, then it wasn’t God’s priority for my day.
  • Throughout the day I was intentional about pausing to breath in God’s presence when I moved from project to project. It was my “presence of God pause” – I’d take a deep breath and concentrate for a few seconds on God’s goodness. I was reconnecting with God’s presence in the midst of the chaos around me.
  • When tempted to complain about our season of busyness, I repeatedly spoke of the good things associated with this season. (Most notably that God was using it to supply our needs in a year when business has been very slow.)
  • I purposefully prayed each evening thanking God for His goodness and faithfulness. At bedtime God’s peace would try to slip away as all that was left undone would try to flood my mind. I kept that from happening by praying – sometimes aloud to keep the enemy at bay.
  • Each morning, no matter how tired I was, I thanked God for the day ahead.
  • I read God’s Word each morning. I didn’t always read as much as I typically would, but I read something.
  • I didn’t overdo it. Sometimes it felt like I was about to cross over that fine line of doing all we can and not overdoing it, but I was always able to pull back. I took a lunch break and dinner break each day. When I couldn’t work anymore, I quit. No matter how much was left on the To Do list. Not overdoing it is one way we show that we trust God. Pushing ourselves too hard is evidence that we’re relying on ourselves too much. I even had folks come help me clean my house twice during the past few weeks. (Special thanks to Linda who recognized the need and offered before I even asked.) Resting says that I trust God to enable me to accomplish what needs to be done in the time I have available or He’ll give me grace with clients for the work that isn’t accomplished. (Or He won’t give me grace with those clients, but He’ll provide for my needs in some other way. I’m OK with that option, too.)

Things I Did Wrong

  • One morning (very near the end of the busy time) I realized that I was putting my makeup on like a wild woman! My hands were moving so fast dabbing at the powder (with more force than necessary) that it was actually adding to my stress. When I realized it, I stopped and purposefully slowed my movements. It made a huge difference in my stress level. I realized that I was adding to my stress by acting as if I were under stress. I didn’t need to be under stress. I was experiencing God’s peace, yet I was still letting my mind and body register stress. In other words, I truly had peace about what wasn’t getting done, but during the day I was allowing myself to feel stressed about all I needed to do. I’m not sure that makes sense but it was my experience. What I found was that the moment I relaxed my movements, I felt less stress and greater peace. I have a tendency to move too quickly when I’m stressed. All that does is increase our stress. It really doesn’t help us get things done more quickly. More often than not it causes us to drop things or spill things or make mistakes. At least that’s my experience.
  • I didn’t do any of the things I did right as consistently as I’d like. I forgot to pause between tasks to breath in God’s presence, I did complain, and I didn’t ask for help as much as I could have. There’s always room for improvement.
  • Exercise and healthy eating fell by the wayside. Ugh. Time to recover the good habits I’ve lost over the past 2 months.

God’s peace is a wonderful thing. He promises that He will keep us in “perfect peace” when our mind is steadfast on Him (Isaiah 26:3). I wouldn’t say that the peace I experience was “perfect peace” – it slipped at times. But then, my focus wasn’t always on the Lord, either. But I experienced much more of it than I usually do. Thank You Lord! Sometimes we really do see ourselves making progress!

It feels really good to be back in my routine. I’m looking forward to more writing. And enjoying the short time left before Christmas. Merry Christmas, friends. Enjoy God this season! Despite my busyness, I sure have been. More about that in my next blog!

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God is so very good! I’ve been enjoying His goodness a lot lately. And still, I’ve been missing it a lot! It seems that the past few months have been tremendously busy. The pace is accelerating and I don’t always know how to slow it down. I’ve been pretty consistent about keeping my time with the Lord and have thoroughly enjoyed His goodness during those times. Yet in the flurry between times with the Lord, I am aware that I’ve lost my connection with Him. Of course He is still there and I know I can trust Him to always be there, but I’ve lost my sense of His nearness. So I’ve been missing Him.

There are times when my husband and I can spend the whole day together and at the end of the day I feel a sense of missing him. That’s when I realize that while we were near one another all day, we weren’t connecting. That’s the experience I’ve been having with God between those times of enjoying His goodness.

In my busyness, I also have not been sleeping well. There have been too many nights in a row in which my brain doesn’t fully shut down. I’m sleeping, but in my sleep, I’m still trying to work out the issues of the day. I’m waking frequently and struggling to get back to sleep. So I’m dragging during the day and when I’m over-tired, I usually feel a bit queasy. So as my friend from Texas would say, I’ve been feeling “puny” lately.

So one morning while in the midst of this, my Bible fell open to Psalm 91 and God spoke to my heart. (Which, by the way, isn’t how God usually speaks to me. He usually speaks through my systematic reading of Scripture. Today He changed it up a bit.)

Those who live in the shelter of the Most High will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
Psalm 91:1 (NLT)

“Those who live in the shelter of the Most High…” God is pointing out to me that I’m not “living” in His shelter throughout the day. I’m visiting each morning and often in the evening. Most days I love those visits. But like a visit to my grandma’s when I was a kid, when the visit was over, we packed up and left. After my visit with the Lord each morning, I’m packing up and moving on with my day.

The word translated “live” means to dwell, to settle in, to remain or abide or to tarry. It also means to marry. (Strong’s Talking Greek & Hebrew Dictionary).

We’re not to just visit with the Lord, we’re to live in Him. And we’re not to live with him as roommates, but intimately, as spouses.

Those who live in the shelter of the Most High will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
Psalm 91:1 (NLT)

When I move from one project to another at work, I take all the paperwork associated with the first project and put it in a stack and move it to a corner of my table. Then I pull the paperwork associated with the second project from its spot on my table and move it to my desk. I’ve fallen into the trap of doing the same thing with God. Mentally, I’m stacking my “God project” neatly in the corner of my table and moving the pressing matters of the day to the front and center of my desk.

God is so good! He’s been putting up with this from me for longer than I care to admit. He’s been patiently waiting for me to find my way back to Him. He has been patiently waiting to do what brings him joy. Luke records the words of Jesus in this passage:

Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.
Luke 12:32 (NKJV)

Did you catch that? God is waiting patiently to give me the kingdom. He wants to do it. But I’ve only been visiting with him. He is waiting for me to move in, to live with Him – or rather, to live in Him. When I do that, I will find rest. I really need that rest!

But I’m getting a bit ahead of myself.

Those who live in the shelter of the Most High will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
Psalm 91:1 (NLT)

Now the word translated shelter is “sayther” and can also be translated “covering” or “secret place.” In fact, you might be more familiar with the New King James Version translation of this verse:

He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High Shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.
Psalm 91:1 (NKJV)

So what is this secret place? Where is this “sayther?” I had an idea where this was going, but I wanted to find it in Scripture. Scripture took me to where I expected to end up, but the hunt was worth it. Listen to these verses. In each case, the Hebrew word translated “secret place” is the word “sayther.”

4One thing I have desired of the LORD, That will I seek: That I may dwell in the house of the LORD All the days of my life, To behold the beauty of the LORD, And to inquire in His temple. 5For in the time of trouble He shall hide me in His tabernacle; In the secret place of His tabernacle He shall hide me; He shall set me high upon a rock.
Psalm 27:4-5 (NKJV/NASB)

What was the tabernacle? It was the tent of the Lord’s presence.

19How great is your goodness, which you have stored up for those who fear you, which you bestow in the sight of men on those who take refuge in you. 20In the secret place of your presence you hide them from the intrigues of men; in your dwelling you keep them safe from accusing tongues.
Psalm 31:19-20 (NIV/NASB)

“In the secret place of your presence…” The secret place is the presence of God.

15My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, 16your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.
Psalm 139:15-16 (NIV)

The secret place we were made was not our mother’s womb, although that’s the final place where we were formed, but Scripture says that God formed us before the world began. We were first formed in the presence of God – it is there that all our days were determined. It was there that we were given the gifts and talents and personality that is unique to each of us. Wow! I was formed in the very presence of God. So were you!

The secret place, friends, is the presence of God. So let’s create our own translation of Psalm 91:1 –

Those who live – settle into, remain, not just visit – in the presence of the Most High – those people will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
Psalm 91:1

This verse that is so familiar to many has an exciting meaning to it. It is a promise – that those who dwell, who live, who settle down, in the presence of the Most High God – Elyon, the Supreme God – will find rest. The word translated “rest” means remain permanently. When I learned that, the first passage that came to mind was John 10:

27My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. 28I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one can snatch them away from me, 29for my Father has given them to me, and he is more powerful than anyone else. No one can snatch them from the Father’s hand.
John 10:27-29 (NLT)

No one can snatch them from the Father’s hand. Those who settle into the presence of God will remain permanently in the shadow of the Almighty.

Which brings us to the last word we’re going to look at – “shadow.” The word also means shade or defense. In other words, it means under the protection of. When we settle into God’s presence, we are covered by Him. He defends us and protects us. No one can snatch us from His hand. No one can harm us. He is the Supreme God, Elyon, God Almighty, El Shaddai.

This single verse says so much. When I put the full meanings of the words into the verse, this is what I get:

Those who settle into or remain in the presence of Elyon, the Supreme God who is above all other Gods, that person will remain forever under the protection of the Almighty God.
Psalm 91:1 (SJH)

It’s because of this sentence – this first verse of Psalm 91 that the Psalmist can write verse 2 with confidence.

I will say of the LORD, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in him will I trust.
Psalm 91:2 (KJV)

When we settle into the presence of God and stay there throughout the day, we can confidently face the challenges of this life because we know – we know – that we are under His protection. He is our refuge. He is our fortress. He is our God who is faithful and worthy of our trust.

God is so good. In the midst of my busyness, He stopped me in my tracks to remind me that He wants me to live in His presence, not just visit for a few minutes each day. He wants to give me the Kingdom. What a deal! What a good God!

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