Mary and Joseph’s Packing List

unnamedThey embarked upon a journey that neither of them had chosen. They were compelled by the government to take a trip that would take them eighty miles from their home. Mary was not just a little pregnant, she was, according the scriptures, “great with child.” She knew her time was near and yet she had to travel a long and difficult journey that would take about a week to complete.

What did she pack to take on her trip? Only what she and Joseph could carry themselves. There were no luggage handlers to load and unload their baggage. There were not suitcases with wheels and handles. Mary and Joseph didn’t take several changes of clothes, toiletries or reading material to entertain them on their journey. They didn’t take an extra pair of shoes or dress clothes for an evening out while they were away. They likely only packed the bread they would eat on the trip and perhaps a blanket or two if they had an extra. Talk about traveling light!

But they took one other thing with them. They took a complete trust in their Heavenly Father who had told them He would care for them.

Psalm 23:1 The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.

They knew God would care for them because He had promised to do so and they believed Him. That doesn’t mean they didn’t fight some doubt but after all, if Mary was in her final days of her pregnancy, they’d had several months to wrestle with their doubts. I would like to think that by this time they were beginning to have some assurance in their hearts that God would  keep His promise to them. He’d already seen them through the long pregnancy and the ridicule that they likely experienced from their friends and family.

They knew what a shepherd’s job was. They knew that if God was their shepherd, he would lead them and feed them. He would also protect them, provide shelter and keep them safe. He would care for their every need like he’d been doing since the day the angel had told them of the coming of their son, Jesus.

They were indeed, as helpless as sheep. They were vulnerable and weak. But they knew their shepherd was able to meet their needs. They were in want of nothing.

What do you need from your shepherd? Do you believe He is able and willing to care for you? Spend a few moments this Christmas season thanking Him for all the ways He gently and lovingly cares for you.  For the Lord is your shepherd, you shall not want.

Is the Universe Collapsing?

http://www.publicdomainpictures.net/view-image.php?image=22672&picture=ce-space-scene-1

Photo courtesy http://www.publicdomainpictures.net/view-image.php?image=22672&picture=ce-space-scene-1Is our Universe on the verge of collapse? According to scientists we are headed for the end of the world. Well, I’m sorry to burst their bubble but those of us who are Christ Followers already knew that.

In an article that I read today, they talk about how a Danish university has “proven” scientifically that the universe is preparing to collapse and that in fact, the process may have already begun. That sounds like doomsday predictions that have been occurring for centuries, probably since the beginning of creation.

As residents on this planet, of course we would be concerned about what happens if the world ends. What happens to us? Will humanity cease to exist? Again, as believers we already know the answer. So when I hear these predictions I don’t get fearful or worried. I actually get excited.

According to the article, the theory called “the big slurp” predicts that the Universe will expand to the point where it cannot go any further and will then come crashing back to the center to be completely destroyed. “Yes, the universe will probably collapse,” and: “A collapse is even more likely than the old calculations predicted,” says the article.

Romans 8:22-25 “For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.”

Picture a circle of people with large rubber bands and raw eggs. Each person has their egg in the rubber band and begins stretching it away from the center, as far as the rubber band will stretch. Finally when it can’t go any further the egg slips from each person’s hand then, suddenly propelled by the contraction of the rubber band, goes crashing with all the others into the center, completely destroyed. It’s an extremely simplified example but you get the idea. Can’t you just hear those rubber bands groaning as they are stretched to their capacity? And if we listen, we can hear all of creation groaning as it awaits God’s final redemption of His followers.

For 400 years Israel waited to hear from God, waited for the prophecies that promised a savior to come to pass. Ever since Jesus ascended into Heaven we have been waiting for his return. God told Zechariah and then Mary and Joseph that the promise was on it’s way. Could it be that God is again letting us know that the time for which we have been waiting is near?

Don’t you just love it when scientists think they’ve found out something new, only to find that they are proving scripture? That makes me want to shout!

2 Peter 3:10 “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.”

So how does this apply to us? How can we possibly incorporate the end of the world into our daily lives? It’s really quite simple. We focus on doing what matters most. We spend our time furthering the Kingdom of God. We love and encourage each other while we still can, praying “come Lord Jesus.”

Hebrews 3:13  But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called “Today,” so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.

Are You a Name Dropper?

We are all familiar with name droppers.  The official dictionary definition of name-dropping is “the studied but seemingly casual mention of prominent persons as associates done to impress others.”

What if I told you that I once ate a meal at a fast food restaurant with Joyce Meyer? It’s true. It was in her early days of ministry and she was leading a woman’s retreat at my church. She was actually in my driveway as I happened to be riding to the event with the leader of our women’s group and Joyce’s van was to follow us. I also once sat next to the late D. James Kennedy at a banquet. He was a very interesting man to talk with. I enjoyed the evening immensely.

That’s name dropping. It sounds like I know both of those people. But if I were to meet Joyce Meyer today would she remember me? Highly unlikely. And I’m sure that Pastor Kennedy wouldn’t have remembered spending an evening chatting with me either. Those experiences were just brief encounters that I remember because they are well known people.

All of this leads to the obvious question, “So what?” So what if I met either of those people? Does a simple introduction and conversation amount to a relationship? Not at all. I couldn’t take someone to meet Joyce Meyer and introduce her as my friend.

What if you truly were friends with a very important person? What if you really did have a relationship with a president, or a king or even a movie star?  Wouldn’t it be amazing to tell all your friends?  But what would it get you?

You have an even more amazing relationship. You are on a first name basis with the Creator of the Universe. He’s not just an acquaintance, He knows you by name. He gives you His full attention when He knows you want to speak to Him. He’s interested in your problems, your fears, and your dreams. What more could you ask?

Be a name dropper! But not for the purpose of impressing others. Do it as a way to draw others into a relationship with the best friend they will ever have. Speak His name often. Tell everyone that you know Him and then… offer to introduce them.

Jeremiah 10:6  There is none like you, O Lord; you are great, and your name is great in might.

A Life that Leaves a Mark

1185327_611885915500487_970469722_nA few weeks ago I wrote about being in Florida with my grandfather. We had gone there to say goodbye. At 97 he was ready to leave his earthly body which had failed him and he longed for Heaven. It was a long process that would cause him to be confined to a Hospice facility inching his way toward heaven day by day for six weeks. Finally on a Sunday afternoon, he would leave this life forever.

But what did he leave behind? Nothing he needed but much that we needed. He left a legacy to his family that cannot be measured. He left a mark on four generations of descendants who loved him and tried to live like he inspired us to. He was a quiet, simple man who spent his life trying to make other’s lives better.

If you went to his house and commented that you liked something you saw there, he would try to find a way to send it home with you. It was a good thing, when we made the trip by air instead of car so we didn’t have room to take so many things home with us. He was just as free with intangible things as well. He was quick to share a story from his past in order to demonstrate a life lesson to any of us who would listen. We spent a lot of time listening and learning how to live and love those around us.

This earthly life passes so quickly. If you’ve had children you know how fast they grow. They are adults and leading their own lives before we know it. My grandfather’s life went quickly too, even though it spanned almost a century. He filled it with meaning every day because he constantly looked for ways to serve others. Each of those lives, and there must be thousands, was changed because he was intentional about how he lived his.

At the end of his life, as he lay helpless in a hospital bed, he was still touching lives. One nurse told me that she’d never met anyone like him and knowing him had changed her. She had only known him for six weeks. How many people does she care for in a year? And yet this one man made a difference.

There’s a story in John, chapter 13, which is very familiar. It’s the story of Jesus at the last supper. He dined with his disciples and then did something none of them expected. He filled a basin with water, took a towel and washed the feet of those he loved. He could have been distracted by what he had to face the next day but he focused on those he was with. He served them in his most difficult hour. He set the example for all of us.

The last time I talked to my grandfather was to wish him happy birthday two weeks before he died.  Our last conversation was difficult. He struggled to find words, he stuttered trying to keep his thoughts together but I treasured every syllable. Finally when he was tired and ready to hang up he said, “Are you doing okay? Is there any way that I can help you somehow?” I was speechless for a moment trying to understand how he could be facing the end of his life at any moment but was still concerned for my welfare. I told him that I was fine and he didn’t need to worry about us. He’d taught us well and we would continue teaching the  generations to come how to live like he did.

After I hung up the phone I realized why that last conversation was so special. I had experienced the same thing the disciples had on that night at the table with Jesus. What I saw in my grandfather’s last words to me was the same thing the disciples saw in Jesus that night. I saw a glimpse of the heart of Jesus in my grandfather’s words, and in his life.

Grandpa didn’t have to do grand things. He just lived his life for others. He made a difference. He left a mark. He inspired me to do the same.

When is Heaven not Heaven?

We all long for Heaven. Scripture paints a picture of Heaven that makes us yearn for the day when we will be there. We picture the conditions described in Revelation. In Heaven there will be no more pain or tears or death. There will be joy unending. We see it as a place so different than what we experience in our earthly lives that we hope for the day when we will be there. We talk about the streets of gold and a sea of crystal. Living there will be paradise. Or will it?

Is that place we read about, the perfect place? If we were promised a home in such a place would we truly be happy forever? Only with one condition. No matter how beautiful Heaven is, no matter what amazing things we have been promised, it will only be Heaven….if God is there. He is the reason Heaven will be so wonderful. If God designed Heaven to be the amazing place He promises in scripture and if he allowed us to enter the gates we would still not be happy there if God was not there.

In Psalm 73:25 the psalmist says “Whom have I in heaven but You? And besides You, I desire nothing on earth.” There is nothing in Heaven that will satisfy except the Father Himself. The rest is just decoration. Nothing we desire on earth or in Heaven compares to being in the presence of the Lord.

In the 26th verse of Psalm 73, he continues the thought. “My flesh and my heart may fail, But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”

What does it mean for God to be our portion? A portion is the part set aside for each of us. Your portion is God.  All of Him. What more can you want? Nothing else will satisfy like the Lord Himself.

And when our flesh fails us and when our heart grows faint, He is the strength of our heart. He gives us strength in times of weakness. He is all we need in every circumstance.

He is all we will ever need, on earth or in Heaven.

Daddy, Can You Hear Me?

Man and DaughterThe little girl looks up at her father and speaks in her soft little voice. Her father leans down, putting his ear closer to her in order to hear her clearly. He wants to hear every word she has to say because he loves her.

That picture is what we need to see when we wonder if God is hearing our prayers. He is that father, who leans down, bending over and turning his face toward us, intent on hearing every cry of our heart…because He loves us.

Psalm 116: 1-2 I love the Lord, because He hears My voice and my supplications. Because He has inclined His ear to me, Therefore I shall call upon Him as long as I live. (NASB)

 I love the Lord because he hears my voice  and my prayer for mercy. Because he bends down to listen, I will pray as long as I have breath! (NLT)

As a child, it is very important to know that someone is listening, that someone cares about what you have to say. As God’s children, we have the assurance that He is listening to us. What we say to Him is important to Him. And because we know He hears us, we love Him all the more.

Our God is a good and loving father!

 

The Shortest Distance Between Two Points

spiral-1_21168872Do you remember geometry class? The shortest distance between two points is…a straight line, right? In a basic sort of way, that’s the correct answer. There are situations that are the exception but they can  get complicated and we could examine them for a long time.

For the sake of discussion, let’s consider the answer to be a straight line.

So let’s talk about obedience for a moment. If God speaks to you and you know that there is something you are supposed to do, or not do, what do you do? Do you respond instantly and agree to follow God’s direction and obey Him or do you stall and make excuses about why you can’t do what the Lord has asked?

I can tell you what I have found myself doing at times. If you’ve seen the movie The Wizard of Oz, you will remember the scene where Dorothy is in Munchkin Land and is beginning her walk down the yellow brick road. She starts at the center and makes a spiral round and round until she’s finally on the straight road to Oz.  Consider for a moment the reverse of that walk, with the goal at the center. What I’ve found myself doing is to start from where I stand, seeing the place God has directed me at a distance in front of me and instead of making the decision to move directly toward the goal, I walk around and around it. Looking at it from all sides, I consider it and gradually move closer to the goal but in a slow spiral. I know I’ll eventually make my way to the center and obey God but I take my time getting there.

But is that obedience? Not really. Delayed obedience really isn’t obedience at all. As a parent, I expect my children to obey my directives without procrastinating. I believe it’s a sign of respect. Doesn’t God deserve that respect from us in every situation? Doesn’t He deserve immediate obedience in all things?

So back to our geometry lesson. The shortest distance between two points? The place where I am and the place God has directed me to go? A straight line.

Obedience is always a straight line.

Just as a servant knows that he must first obey his master in all things, so  the surrender to an implicit and unquestionable obedience must become the  essential characteristic of our lives.” ~ Andrew Murray

If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.  John 14:15

Sunset, Sunrise

1185570_10202069214277424_889783993_nRecently I had the opportunity to watch a beautiful Florida sunset. I was in Florida with two of my boys.  We’d travelled there from Iowa to be with my 96-year-old grandfather who had fallen and was in the ICU. We’d spent many hours with him in the hospital and then helped him transition into Hospice. We had taken a much needed break from a very difficult week and gone to a favorite pier on the Gulf of Mexico to get some fresh air and rest a little.

As I watched the spectacular sunset, I couldn’t help but see the parallel of my grandfather’s life. He is experiencing the sunset of a life well lived.  He has no regrets and has been heard to say quite often, “I’ve had a good life. No one has had a life like mine.” But now his life is coming to an end and the sun is setting.

As we watched together, my sons and I, the younger one said, “Mom, isn’t it neat that while we’re watching the sun setting, someone else is seeing it rise?” I thought about that and realized that God was trying to tell me something so simple but so profound.

The end of a life is not the end but the beginning of something new for a believer in Christ. It’s also not the end for those of us left behind, but is the beginning of a new chapter where we can continue the legacy of what we’ve learned from someone we love.   We can all choose to leave a legacy to the generations to follow.  Each one of us can impact someone else’s life and leave the world a better place because we tried to make a difference. That’s what my grandfather did.

My grandfather’s last words to my sons were, “Remember fellas, family is important. Make it good.” Perhaps they will be heard to say those same words to their great grandchildren sometime in the future. They can choose to follow Christ and impact future generations. Psalm 103:17 tells us  But from everlasting to everlasting the LORD’s love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children’s children (NIV)

God has been showing me that this principle of sunset and sunrise applies to all aspects of life. Whenever there is an end to something, whether it be a relationship, a job, or just a season in one place, there is also a new beginning. Something new always follows.

It’s okay to grieve the end of something but allowing yourself to find hope in the promise of a new beginning is what will bring the healing. I will miss my grandfather so much  but I know I will see him again. In that I can rejoice while I begin the next chapter of the life God has given me.

The last part of Psalm 30:5 says Weeping may last for the night, But a shout of joy comes in the morning. 

Indeed, joy comes in the morning, with the sunrise of a new day.

Life is a Maze

Have you ever been to a corn maze? In every direction, all you can see are walls. Walls of corn taller than you are. You move through the paths finding dead end after dead end. Each time you must retrace your steps you wonder if the next choice will be the right one. It’s easy to get turned around and find yourself in the same dead ends over and over again. In a complex maze, it could be possible to wander for so long that anxiety increases to the point of panic.

Our lives are like that maze. We can only see the path we are on. We can only make one decision at a time. We cannot always see whether we are making any progress at all. We just keep moving, hoping we will eventually come out at the right place.

What we don’t want to do is let anxiety or panic take over. What must we do to prevent this? We must make the decision to trust God no matter how tall the walls and how complicated the path. No matter how confused we feel as we wander from dead end to dead end.

You see, God is the designer of the maze. He knows exactly which path we must take to get to the exit. If we could rise above the walls and see it from His perspective we would not be concerned about making it out. We would be confident in each turn because we could look ahead and see the dead ends so that we could avoid them.

But we can’t see our lives from an external perspective. We can only rely on God for guidance.  We can also rest in the knowledge that even when we make a wrong turn, we don’t get lost forever. We can always turn around and try again. That’s God’s grace at work. He will patiently lead us along the path and will bring us out of this maze called life when we have completed all he has designed us to do. Each path teaches us something, even the dead ends.

Keep moving and trust God to guide you. Listen to the quiet voice of the Lord, leading you to Himself one step at a time. You really are getting closer every day even though you can’t always see it.

Your ears will hear a word behind you, “This is the way, walk in it,” whenever you turn to the right or to the left. Isaiah 30:21

God’s Grace is Sufficient

God’s grace is a mystery. How can He continuously offer undeserved grace to us? How can He give us chance after chance to get it right and love us when we fail over and over?

God gives grace for the moment. One moment at a time. He doesn’t give us a stockpile of grace to use at our convenience or at our leisure. He gives it as we need it and only He knows when that is.

For that matter, He doesn’t give us a stock pile of anything. Everything He has for us; grace, peace, wisdom, knowledge…it’s all given exactly in the moment we need it and never before. We can’t save it up for future use. If we did that, we would find ourselves depending on our own ability to ration out the supply as we felt we needed it. We would stop being dependent on God.

Sometimes we think God has  left us or forgotten us but He cannot do that. When we ask for forgiveness, He forgets our sin but He has promised that he will never leave us or forsake us. He is always with us.

There’s an old song that says “Your Grace is sufficient for me. Your strength is made perfect, when I am weak. All that I cling to I lay at your feet. Your grace is sufficient for me.”

It is in that place of surrender that God’s grace is enough. He can only fill an empty vessel. When you lay all the things you are depending on for your strength at his feet, he can fill you with his perfect strength. And there you will find peace as well.

And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. 2 Corinthians 12:9