Thursday, January 25, 2018

Walk in Hope!

        "Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer." (Rom.12:12)
         Such a simple lesson really...but for me, it was a game changer.  Or at the very least, a major attitude changer.  And don't we all need that?
        I was walking with Mr. B on the greenway.  And as usual, he'd managed to find himself a fine, big stick.  Life's simple pleasures!

           My daughter, Mary Norris Tilmes, called and over the course of the conversation, she something that I hope I never forget:
           "It's always better to walk in hope."
           Wow, I needed to hear that.  Anybody else?  Let me explain--
           You see, I'd started to become one of those people who tries to steel myself against disappointment by preparing for the worst outcome.  Yes, yes, I know this is absolutely NOT how a woman who loves the Lord of all grace and goodness should ever think or behave, but there it is.
           As I think back, I believe it had slowly developed into an ugly, hidden habit dating back to a few totally unexpected phone calls--one when my brother called to say our active, vibrant mama had suddenly collapsed and wasn't expected to survive.  She went home to be with Jesus early the next morning.  And then, about a month later, while we were all still reeling, here came another shocking phone call from the doctor telling us that our healthy, wonderful daddy had terminal cancer.
          Suddenly the phone had become a dangerous, unpredictable enemy...and I began to answer it warily...worried and certain that something dangerous was lurking around the corner.  That tendency was exacerbated following the phone call a few years later telling us our daughter had been in a terrible wreck.
           So here's how I unconsciously began coping--expect the worst and then you won't be suddenly shocked or terribly disappointed.  This could apply in all walks of life--from watching the Tar Heels play basketball ("They're down by 2...this game is over"--even though it was only 10 minutes into the first  half.  For pete's sake!) watching our boys play golf (one bad hole morphed into a potential catastrophe in my overwrought imagination.  Geez.) a child not answering their phone while traveling out of town ("They must be lying by the side of the road in the middle of nowhere."  Really?  How does that help?).
           But no matter how this ridiculous tendency got started, as Mary Norris and I chatted that afternoon, I realized how right, how wise, she was when she said, "If we're going to be disappointed, it doesn't make it any easier to try to prepare for it ahead of time.  We'll be disappointed either way.  But we can survive disappointment.  So why not walk in hope?"
           Seriously, why on earth not?!  How does it help to adopt a posture of assuming the worst or preparing for disappointment?   All it does is make you miserable in advance!
          And that kind of preemptive worry or negativity does nothing--NOTHING!--to help you deal with a possible future disappointment or undesirable outcome, should it occur.  All it does is drain the present of hope and joy and peace.  But as redeemed children of the King of Kings, we are called to walk with hope, with joy, with faith in the One who has all, all, all things under His sovereign control and is working according to His perfect plans.
           Yeah sure, the outcome may not be what we want...but no matter what, He will be there with us and for us, and He's promised to bring our ultimate good and His greater glory out of every circumstance. (Rom.10:28)   We might sometimes be momentarily disappointed...but we'll never be deserted.  And we need never be in despair, because we walk with the One who is Hope Incarnate. 
            So instead of walking in worry....or walking in dread...or even just walking in a disappointment-anticipating frame of mind, let's walk in hope!  In fact, how about we walk in hope assuming the best, not the worst, and trust Him with whatever and however?
            Our God lives and reigns...and He commands us to "Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer." (Rom.12:12)
            By the grace of God and for His glory, let's walk in hope....because we walk with Him.  
           To God be the glory.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

One Great Love

Oh, for a thousand tongues to sing My great Redeemer's praise,
The glories of my God and King,  the triumphs of His grace.
My gracious Master and my God assist me to proclaim
To spread through all the earth abroad the honors of Thy name.
So come on and sing out, let our anthem grow loud,
There is One Great Love...
 Jesus, the name that charms our fears, that bids our sorrows cease
'Tis music in the sinner's ears, tis life and health and peace.
He breaks the power of canceled sin, He sets the prisoners free:
His blood can make the foulest clean, His blood availed for me
So come on and sing out, let our anthem grow loud, 
There is One Great Love...

He speaks and listening to His voice new life the dead receive
The mournful broken hearts rejoice, the humble poor believe.
Glory to God and praise and love be ever, ever giv'n
By saints below and saints above, the church in earth and Heav'n.
So come on and sing out, let your anthem grow loud
There is One Great Love...
        Thank You, Father.  Praise You for Your glorious creation.  Thank You for the magnificent snow that transformed this earth, reminding us that You make all things new.  All things.  
        And one glorious day, You will transform our lowly, tired bodies and this weary old world into such transcendent, resplendent glory that mind cannot conceive the wonder, the joy, the power, the beauty of all You will do and all that You are and all that we will be in You--our One Great Love. 
        Thank You that so many dear friends like Ray...Carol...Lynda...Sam...and so many others are now seeing You face to face.  Oh what that must be like!  Thank You for tiny glimpses of that glory in the astounding, transforming wonder of the music and laughter and tears shared with loved Your blood red beauty of the cardinals.  We love You, too, Lord.   
       Thank You that we can join the chorus even now of praising, rejoicing, and enjoying You.  "Glory to God and praise and love be ever given by saints below and saints above, the church in earth and heaven."  That's them...and that's us!  They are the saints singing and rejoicing and praising above, Father, so help us to join in here below.  As Ray said, "Let our lives be one gigantic thank you."  Yes, Lord, yes!  With our lives, with our tongues, with our love, with our forgiveness, with our sharing, with our gratitude.    
       As they sing above, Father, oh give us relentless, joyful, grateful tongues here below to sing of--and to live for--our One Great Love...Jesus. 
        So come come come on...You've got today--this day, right now--to live for His glory, to love by His power and in His name, and to sing of His goodness and greatness.  Start living, loving, praising, singing...for He is our infinitely glorious One Great Love...Jesus.
        To God be the glory forever and ever.   

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Running like Ray

       "There are better things ahead than any we leave behind." C.S. Lewis
        Praise God for the Gift of all gifts--the Lord Jesus--who came so infinitely far down to this weary, sin-sick world to provide and assure us that this is true, absolutely true.  Yes, as believers there are richly fulfilling, riotously joyful, stunningly glorious things ahead...infinitely, unimaginably better things than any we leave behind.
        Thank You, Jesus.  Thank You. 
        How thankful so many of us are right now, particularly right now,  for the promise, the hope, the glory of the Resurrection and of Heaven.  I have several dear friends who are at this minute glimpsing eternity and their heavenly home--one directly, others through someone they love.  And it's hard.  So hard.
        Like so many others, I have been weeping.  Heavy sobs of sorrow and even bewilderment, especially in the case of one amazing, remarkable, godly, irreplaceable man.  We pray for a miracle, but we also trust in the Sovereign One who loves him, loves his family, loves us far more than we can begin to comprehend.
        And now, I simply say,  thank You, Father, for the gift, the priceless gift, of this man's beautiful, Christ-exalting life.  For the eternal impact he has made in so many lives.  In my children's lives.  In my husband's life.  In my life.  Oh how God can use one man or woman fully devoted to Him.
        Abba, when we're weary or weak or tempted to quit, help us to remember that You did not quit.  Not for a moment.
        And help us think of how You have used our dear friend to change countless lives for their good and Your glory.  Like his Savior, he didn't quit.  Not ever.  Even now he runs his race to the finish line...faithfully, lovingly, all out, all the way.  Because that's how he's lived. 
        And so we will do our best--by Your grace, for Your glory--to do the same.  There are souls out there who need to hear of the astounding love of Jesus...of His amazing grace.  Of His glorious story of redemption: He came to live the  life we could not live, to die the death we deserved, and to rise to resurrection life to give us the eternal life we could never earn, never merit...but can and do through the Lord Jesus Christ, our  Savior, our King, our Lord.
        Don't let us quit, Jesus. Don't let us ever give up or flag in sharing Your love, sharing Your grace, sharing Your song of redemption with a world desperate to know the Truth.  Keep us running our race all the way to the finish line as well with our gazes locked on Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith.
        Keep us running like Ray till we see You face to face. 
        We pray this in the sweet name of our Lamb of God who died for our sins and the conquering name of our Lion of Judah who defeated the grave...the beautiful, powerful name of Jesus.
         Christ alone, Cornerstone...through the storm You are Lord, Lord of all.
        To You be the glory forever and ever. 

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Start where you are

         It's January 3rd...and I'm sick of winter.  If fact, I'm totally done with winter.  Could someone please inform winter?  Thank you very much.
        ...Hmm.  That strategy does not seem to be working.  It's still frigid outside...Mr. B still insists on being walked (in fact, he's downright giddy in this weather--a fact I do not appreciate in the least)...and my love for the beauty of God's glorious creation appears to be waning...or actually has dropped off a cliff and into a "pitt of despond." 
        Oh my, forgive me, Father.  Forgive Your often spoiled, ungrateful, grumpy little child. 
        And thank You thank You thank You that despite all that, I can still call You Abba, Father.  And I can still call myself Your child.  Might none of us ever take that unutterable privilege and joy for granted--to be so forgiven, so cherished, so empowered, so loved by the King of the universe and the almighty, majestic Lord of Lords.  Yet You call us Your beloved child.
          That's one of the things I love about the New Year--what a living picture of the fresh start we can enjoy with our Father everyday, every week, ever year.
           As Anne of Green Gables said, "Isn't it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with  no mistakes in it yet?" 
           What a magnificent sunrise (even if the temperature is cooooold).  A beautiful start to a new day. 

         "Sing to the Lord a new song." (Isa.42:10)  A new song of praise and thanksgiving to replace my dirge of complaining!
          "Behold, I am making all things new." (Rev.21:5)  A new year for new habits, new dreams, new hopes, new efforts, new starts.  It's never ever too late to start again, right?
          What new habits are you hoping to establish this year?  What new dreams, new projects do you hope to launch?  Maybe you're feeling like it's January 3rd, and you've already blown that new start, that new habit, that new whatever.  Well, start today.  Start anew.  Start now. 
           Shauna Niequist tells about a friend's new year’s resolution to "Start where you are." 
           How simple but how good is that?!  Start right now, right where you are...even though it's not the ideal time...even though it's not the perfect place...even though you're not completely ready...even though you don't "have it all together" (because, really, that day will never come!). 
           Nope, jettison perfect or prepared or ideal.  Simply "Start where you are." 
           Niequist writes, "Whatever thing seems too intimidating, whatever new skill seems too far off to develop, whatever project has been hanging over your head forever: start where you are.  Each of us has been created by a holy God with love on purpose and for a purpose. But so many of us feel afraid or unprepared. This is the secret though: no one is prepared enough.  No one is perfectly ready!  Let’s choose together to take one step forward today, whatever that means…The world is full of people who can talk your ear off about all the reasons they can’t possibly just begin that thing they’re longing to begin. 
           Let’s not be those people.  Let’s start where we are.”
           Amen.  Praise God He is the Lord of new beginnings, new songs, new starts, and new life. 
           To God be the glory. 

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

A day after Christmas prayer

        Another Advent, another Christmas in the books.  For the record, we had a great one, since all our children came home.  That pretty much assures that despite the chaos, mess, busyness, procrastination, and disorganization (by yours truly), this is one happy mama.  With children home, it may not be a "Silent Night," but it will be a sweet and treasured night.  
        Thank You, Lord, for the gift of family.  And thank You that You came and You come even in the frenzy and the imperfect.  
        But let me just say that our Advent had plenty of hiccups.  As usual, my high (unrealistic) expectations for having meaningful family devotions every night, lighting the Advent wreath candle every week, and staying fixed on Jesus and focused His Word every day...well uh, not so much.  My husband coming down with the flu a little over a week before Christmas pretty much shot down all my happy, holy resolutions of preparing for and savoring the perfect Christmas...which, let's face it, doesn't exist.   
         Yet despite all the missteps, sporadic bad attitudes, occasional pity parties--"If I get the flu, none of the children will come home and Christmas will be terrible, sad, lonely, awful..."--last minute gift deliveries, and missed (though desperately needed) times alone with God in His Word, somehow despite all that, Christmas came as a beautiful gift from the Lord.  A time to treasure the Gift of all gifts and to celebrate the coming of that Gift with those we love dearly.  What an example in full living color of His glorious grace despite us--His wandering, silly, and often downright stupid little sheep.  
          Thank You, Father, thank You.  
          And now it's the day after Christmas. Rather than being sad that it's all over, let's choose to celebrate that it happened.  That once again we got to remember and rejoice in the Gift of the infant Savior.  And that today, when we can finally catch our breath, we can pause to remember and reflect upon the wonder of the Gift, the greatness of the Giver, and the hope of His return.  
          For many friends, I know this has been an especially hard Christmas with someone they love very dearly no longer sitting at their table.  I well remember my own mama's sudden and totally unexpected homegoing to heaven right before Christmas nearly 20 years ago.  But I also remember the tender grace, love, and compassion of my Heavenly Father in that time as well.  He carried us day by day in those difficult days, and we felt His nearness.  
          For them and for us all, I share Scotty Smith's prayer for this day after Christmas: 
        "Father, my prayer today is for all of us, no matter what yesterday was like.  For even our best days are in need of the gospel, and none of our worst days are beyond the reach of the gospel.  When the shepherds left Jesus' manger, they were still shepherds. They still couldn't worship at the temple; they still couldn't give testimony in a court of law; they still were stereotyped as thieves by many in their community.  And we shouldn't romanticize what Joseph and Mary did the day after Jesus was born, as though all of a sudden a five-star inn in Bethlehem did open up, as though Mary's body would have been spared all the normal chaos and pain of birthing and afterbirth, and as though angels would've started showing up as round-the-clock nurses.
          Father, thank You that we're Christians, not Gnostics.  We don't have to pretend about anything.  Christmas isn't a season in which we're supposed to be transported into a super-spirituality, rising about reality.  The gospel isn't about denial but is about learning to delight in You, no matter what is going on.  We praise You that Jesus came into a real world where everything is broken, but He did come to make all things new, starting with us.  
           Please give each of us the special and the common grace You gave the shepherds. Let us hear and let us see more of Jesus, even if we remain 'shepherds' the rest of our lives.  Enable us to glorify and praise You, Father, for You are not a man, that You would life about anything.  Everything You have told us in Your Word will come to pass.  This is good news for shepherds and kings alike." 
          Yes, Lord, yes.  In the days and months ahead, keep us grateful and worshipful. Help us to stay fixed on You, to repent quickly, and to remain dependent upon Your grace.  Might this be a year of loving You, loving others, and living by the power of Your gospel--whether we're feeling like lowly shepherds or mighty kings.  In Jesus' glorious and gracious name. Amen.  
          To God be the glory.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Worship works wonders!

        It seems like every time you turn around, someone is praising and worshipping God in the Christmas story.
       When Mary visits Elizabeth?  Praise every which way.  Elizabeth declares, "when the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby leaped for joy inside me.  Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill what He has spoken to her!" (Lk 1:44-45)
        Elizabeth offers praise, and the unborn John the Baptist dances and leaps for joy in her womb!  Mary responds with a song of worship and praise of her own: "My soul praises the greatness of the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior..." (Lk 1:46-47)
         When John the Baptist is born and Zechariah's tongue is finally loosed, what's the first thing he does?  "Immediately...he began to speak, praising God." (Lk 1:64)  And then old Zechariah follows that up with a whole hymn of praise and thanksgiving himself: "Blessed is the Lord, the God of Israel, because He has visited and provided redemption for His people..." (Lk 1:68)
        And then, of course, there were the angels, surely the most famous worship team ever!  Here they are, appearing to a bunch of nobody shepherds in the middle of nowhere to announce the most astounding news ever.  No sooner does the angel announce the coming of the Savior--the Rescuer--than "a multitude of the heavenly host"--meaning innumerable stunning, shining angelic beings filling the sky!--suddenly appear and begin, you guessed it, praising God.  "Glory to God in the highest heaven and peace on earth to people He favors!"
       Don't you wish you could've seen those shepherds with their eyes bulging and their mouths hanging open?  Astonished.  Awestruck.  And single-minded in immediately seeking after this baby Messiah.  After finding Him, they go tell everyone about Him...but they also--wait for it--worship.  "The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had seen and heard, which were just as they had been told." (Lk 2:20)
       Then a few weeks later, when Jesus is dedicated at the temple, there's old Simeon who "praised God" after seeing the salvation God had promised. (Lk 2:28-32).  And ancient widowed Anna who "began to thank God and to speak about Him to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem." (Lk 2:38)
       Worship and praise, start to finish. None of them knew the whole glorious story--how Jesus would go on to live the perfect life none of us could live.  How He would die the death for sins that we deserved to die.  How He would rise from the dead to give us new resurrection life.  How He would give us His Holy Spirit to empower us, guide us, comfort us, correct us, encourage us, and walk with us every moment of every day.  How He would take us to heaven to live with Him in glory forever and ever. 
        Nope, they didn't know all that...but based on the glorious Truth of the limited part they did know--that Almighty God had broken into His broken creation in order to send His Son to rescue His children--they worshipped and praised.  Most of them were at the very beginning of the story.  Most of them surely never knew, never saw the whole story unfold.  They never saw the miracles...nor the crucifixion...nor the resurrection.
       Yet no matter--they worshipped and praised, right where they were.  Because they knew, they believed that God keeps His promises.  That He is worthy.  And that His Son would save and rescue...even if they wouldn't live to see it all happen.   
       So here's what I'm wondering:  what's our excuse?  Why aren't we relentlessly worshipping Almighty God?  Why am I not tirelessly praising the Lord for sending Jesus--my Rescuer?  We have so much more knowledge than those shepherds or Zechariah or Simeon or Anna.  Yeah maybe our stories, like theirs--are imperfect and incomplete, but don't we know enough through God's Word and His Spirit that we can and should worship Him right where we are, right as we are?   If they could, why not us?   
        We know that God inhabits the praises of His people.  We know that worship not only glorifies God but brings us joy.
       Max Lucado puts it this way: "Worship does to the soul what a spring rain does to a thirsty field.  It soaks down, seeps in, and stirs life.  Are you stressed? Worship God, who could store the universe in His pocket and the oceans in an eyedropper. Are you ashamed?  Worship Jesus, whose love never fades.  Are you bereaved?  Open your heart to your Shepherd.  He will lead you through the valley of sorrow.  Do you feel small?  A few moments in front of the throne of your loving King will evaporate any sense of insignificance.  Worship works wonders.  For your own sake do what the angels did: make a big deal about the arrival of the King."
        God moves when we worship.  The heavens dance when we praise.  And our hearts sing when we magnify our Maker.  So stop waiting for your story to tie up in a neat, perfect little bow.  Stop wasting time staring at all those other lives at there and feeling inadequate.  Stop worrying and start worshipping! 
        Because worship works wonders.
       Today, right this very minute, no matter where you are in your story--whether in a hopeful place, a confusing place, a lonely place, a joyful place, or a sorrowful place--make the choice to worship and praise the glorious One who came down at Christmas....for you, for me--for our salvation, for our joy, for our hope, for our peace, for our rescue, for our redemption, and for our glory.
       Joy to the world, the Lord is come, let earth receive her King. Let every heart prepare Him room, and heaven and nature sing.  And heaven and nature sing.  And heaven and heaven and nature sing. 
          Time to start singing!  Now!
          To God be the glory.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

What are you treasuring?

        Luke 2:19 “But Mary was treasuring up all these things in her heart and meditating on them.”
        I hit the wall this morning.  It began with an inability to sleep most of the night.  As a result, I got up a bit later than usual, and from the moment my eyes opened, I felt pressured, my heart weighted with indefinable stress.
       What stress?  That vague sense of having far too much to do with not enough time to do it.  Of feeling disorganized and discouraged.  And topping it all all, of a sense of condemnation over my feeling overwhelmed and frazzled.
        But then God's still small voice: what about time alone with Me and My Word?  Not only today, but for the past couple of days, what has been my very first priority? 
      I already knew the answer, and ironically, knowing that made me feel even more defeated and condemned over my misplaced priorities.   Small wonder I fell off the wagon of peace and joy this morning!   We forfeit so much wisdom, hope, strength, perspective, and peace when we fail go to God first in order to hear from Him, be loved and encouraged by Him, and worship Him. 
      I know, know, know all this...and yet my busy, preoccupied, prideful flesh loves to pull me off course.  Sigh.
      But for this we have Jesus...and forgiveness...and grace.  Thank You, thank You, thank You Father.
       It's often been said that when we feel conviction, that is from God.  But when we feel condemnation, that is from the enemy.  So I'm thankful for conviction from the Lord to start afresh this morning and to savor being in His presence and enjoying His Word...and I refuse to heed the enemy's condemnation.
I thought I'd just share a few thoughts I wrote this morning in my journal after reading Luke 2:19 in hopes that it will encourage someone else out there who's feeling a bit overwhelmed or discouraged--
        What am I treasuring today? What am I pondering?  I can tell you: my to-do list.  Myself.  My needs and wants and fears and worries.  Me, myself, and I makes a mighty small and ugly package!  Forgive me, Father. 
        I'm treasuring and meditating on precisely the wrong things!  Rick Warren says that we all know how to meditate, because we all know how to worry.  Boy, that's so true--we're professionals at turning and churning those worries over and over in our minds.  Before we know it, a tiny gnat of concern has become a behemoth of fear that consumes us.  Instead, we're to turn the life-giving Word over and over in our minds.  
        Don't churn those worries.  Instead chew on the Word.  
Today, I choose to chew upon and ponder this verse: “But Mary was treasuring up all these things in her heart and meditating on them.” (Luke 2:19)  
        Help me, Lord, to treasure You, to treasure Your Word, to treasure Jesus—the Gift of all gifts.  To treasure the people You’ve put in my life (rather than worry over how I’ll get everything done for them!).  To treasure the joy of getting to celebrate Your birthday rather than worry over what needs to be done in the process. 
       I GET to celebrate the Lord Jesus.  I GET to be with the ones I love.  I GET to cook meals for those I cherish and demonstrate how much I love them with food.  I GET to eat yummy food that the Lord gave us, with taste buds that He gave us.  (Thank You, Father, for making food taste so good!)  I GET to purchase gifts with the money the Lord gave us.  I GET to drive around and run errands in the car God gave us.  I GET to be busy with the feet, arms, eyes, ears, and hands that God gave me--and that work properly--because He so generously allows them to work!  Forgive me, Father, for taking far too much for granted!  
Lord as I treasure YOU, Your Word and the Gift of Your Son, I am meditating on Your goodness and grace in my life.  And now, rather than feeling overwhelmed, I’m feeling thankful.  Rather than feeling burdened, I'm enjoying your joy and peace. Thank You, Father.  Please enable me to carry this, to carry You,  with me throughout this day and empower me to do all You’ve called me to do with a thankful, joyful heart that I might be a blessing to others. 
        To God be the glory.