Jesus’ life matters…

My women’s group just wrapped the Bible study Trustworthy by Lysa Terkeurst, where we spent six weeks studying the Kings of Israel noted in 1 and 2 Kings of the Bible. The fact that a global pandemic was the back drop for this study was not a coincidence. Nor was it a coincidence that during the last part of the study, we experienced a tragedy as a nation and an outpouring of chaos and hurt. Much like the Israelites, we find ourselves with a desperate need for God’s truth, healing, grace, love and a Savior. We have all of that and more in Jesus and His life matters. And because of His life, every single one of our lives matter too.

Jesus is no stranger to chaos, injustice, or political unrest. He is no stranger to hurt, slander, or prejudice. He is no stranger to sickness, disease or death. He is no stranger to communities divided and lines drawn. His time on earth was filled with all of these things. He chose to walk in truth, love, compassion and justice. He chose to walk in obedience to His Father and His Father’s will for His life. Oh yes my friends, Jesus’ life mattered then and it matters now.

Jesus taught us how to handle ourselves during conflict, division, troubled times, pandemics and chaos. He is quite clear in scripture on exactly what to do.

And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:30‭-‬31 ESV

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. Deuteronomy 6:5‭-‬7 ESV

And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” Luke 10:27 ESV

Jesus didn’t just choose words. His actions backed up His words when He was stripped and beaten; when His flesh was torn and He was spit upon; when He wore a crown of thorns and carried a cross; when He was nailed to that cross and was left hanging to die. All the while, Jesus was teaching us how to handle ourselves when everything and everyone seems to be against us. His words from the cross mattered.

And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments. Luke 23:34 ESV

Jesus died and three days later rose again. He now sits at the right hand of God the Father and He will return again someday to judge both the living and the dead. His kingdom will have absolutely no end. And because Jesus’ life matters and he laid that life down for us, we stand in perfect love, grace, forgiveness and unity. Our victory is secure. The battle has been won!

Jesus provided the perfect example of how to handle pandemics, tragedy, hate and injustice then and now. We must put our hope in Him. We must allow His perfect life and example to change us. And we must put His life in proper perspective to our own lives. Oh yes, Jesus’ life matters. I can’t think of a life that matters more.

Choose Him!

The Future…

My daughter had a baby. Yes, a perfect baby boy who has changed my life significantly in the last two months. He was born on January 30 and I was the second one to hold him. The miracle of this tiny addition to our family is nothing short of extraordinary. God breathed out and this life began. I marvel daily at his beautiful face, his tiny hands and his feet. Where will those feet take him? How will God use those hands to serve others? What kind of God sightings will take place through his eyes?

Six weeks after he was born, COVID-19 changed our world. What a juxtaposition. The innocence and calm of this little life against the calamity and panic of a nation. Tender mercies and quiet snuggles wrapped against the back drop of social distancing and hoarding. A precious life given, while others battle a virus. I watch my grandson grow while the death toll rises.

I find myself thinking quite a bit about the future. What will the world look like as he grows up? I know that the current life of “stay at home” will soon pass. But, in the reality of today what things will I choose not to go back to doing? Could we emerge from this time apart better? A little more kind? A little more generous? More God-centered? More thankful? For my grandson’s sake, I sure do hope so!

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
Romans 8:28 NIV

What good are we going to allow God to work through this season? We were absolutely called to this time for a purpose. We need to love and trust God. We need to lean into His teachings and allow Him to refine us. We need to rest in His hope and in His peace that surpasses all human understanding.

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:37‭-‬39 NIV

Oh yes, grandson, we are more than conquerors. Jesus loves you so much. The victory is yours. And the victory is mine. And the future is bright!

Fear Not….

“Have no fear, little flock;
have no fear, little flock,
for the Father has chosen
to give you the kingdom;
have no fear, little flock!”

Did you know that God tells us to “not be afraid” 365 times in the Bible? Yep. It’s true! An assuring Word for every day of the year.

Do you want to know why I think this is His most mentioned command? Because He knew that this world would give us trouble and fear. He knew that we would need to lean in and hear His voice. Every. Day.

He knew that raising children would bring knee-buckling uncertainty. He knew that marriages would bring trying times that require trust. He knew that doctors would bring troubling news. He knew that social and regular media would inundate us with fear. And He knew that we would often feel isolated, lonely and yes, filled with fear!

For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.
2 Timothy 1:7 NLT

God knew exactly what He was doing when He crafted your life. He gifted you with loved ones, children, your unique gifts, your feelings and your very personality. He strategically placed you exactly where you live. He knew that you would serve at the exact job you have now. He knew the battle you are currently fighting. And He certainly knew the uncertain times you would face.

You see, He created you to live today to glorify Him. He chose you, for such a time as this, to live boldly for Him in full hope, faith, trust and love. And He has given you everything you need to survive! He gives you peace that surpasses all human understanding when the world around you is filled with panic. He gives you discernment and a complete hedge of protection. He gives you hope when those troubled storms are lurking all around. And please take heart, He plans to receive you in His kingdom with arms wide open when He is ready to call you home.

I encourage you today to put your hope and trust back into the Lord. He is bigger than your biggest worry. And He is holding you!

Choose Joy!

They do not fear bad news; they confidently trust the Lord to care for them. Psalms 112:7 NLT

Jesus is the Reason…

So, I truly believe that I am the sane child in this photo. You see, there is simply nothing normal about forcing a child to sit on a strange man’s lap, especially when the strange man is dressed abnormally. If you look closely, you will see that my brother knows that I am right. His forced smile gives it away. He is thinking, “geesh, my sister sure does seem to be losing it. Maybe I should be a little scared too.” You see, I am the wiser child.

Oh the wonder and joy of Christmas! If you are like me, you find yourself in the midst of tradition, laughing at family memories, making lists and checking them twice, shopping, baking, and trying desperately to live in the moment and not allow the season to simply sprint on by. Boy, I can sure make Christmas about me, myself and I.

Christmas is about Jesus. Nothing more and nothing less. It is about the Savior of the world, God incarnate, born in a lowly, humble stable. A tiny baby boy, wrapped in swaddling clothes and placed in a manger. The innocence of His birth with the weight of sin and salvation resting squarely on His shoulders. God’s perfect Son born in God’s perfect timing. Filled with God’s perfect grace. No, Christmas is not about me. It is about Him. Jesus.

Live this Christmas with Jesus front and center. Live this Christmas filled with the hope, joy, love and wonder that He brought into the world. Find Jesus this Christmas and let Him fill you with warmth and light: in the midst of the chaos; in the midst of grief; in the midst of illness; in the midst of tradition; in the midst of memories; in the midst of the list; in the midst of shopping; in the midst of your circumstance. (Even in the midst of a strange man abnormally dressed.) Yes, Jesus deserves our best thoughts, best words and best deeds. His entrance into this world that day in Bethlehem makes this life bearable and His grace changed everything.

Be merry and hopeful!

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:14 NIV

Grandpa…

I’ve been thinking a lot about my Grandpa Hart lately. I loved him and was blessed to live close to him when I was little. I had him in my life for just over six years before Jesus called him home. When I think of him, it takes me back to times of innocence and love.

I would often “babysit” him. We would go on walks in his neighborhood and he would wait patiently while I made him elaborate pretend snacks. (By waiting patiently, I mean dozing in front of the television in the day room.) He was tall and strong and he loved me. I vividly remember the nuances of my grandparents home in Ft. Myers. It was truly a place that I looked forward to visiting. What I would give to hang out with him again right now, basking in the innocence of “babysitting” him instead of the other way around.

The song, When I Get Where I’m Going by Brad Paisley and Dolly Parton always makes me think of him. “I’m going to walk with my grand daddy and he’ll match me step for step. And I’ll tell him how I missed him every minute since he left and then I’ll hug his neck. When I get where I’m going. There’ll be only happy tears. I’ll shed the sins and struggles I have carried all these years. And I’ll leave my heart wide open. I will love and have no fear. When I get where I’m going, don’t cry for me down here.”

We have so much hope in Christ. We have the hope of being reunited with loved ones for eternity. We have the hope of shedding the pain and suffering that are a part of this very temporary human experience. Our hearts, souls and minds will be healed. In fact, we will share the very mind of Christ. And we will bask daily in the warmth of His Son and God’s very face will permeate and radiate. It will be an eternal time of innocence and perfect love.

My Grandpa is experiencing all of these things and so much more as I write these very words. Boy, I can’t wait to get where I’m going!

Be hopeful!

This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls. It leads us through the curtain into God’s inner sanctuary. Jesus has already gone in there for us. He has become our eternal High Priest in the order of Melchizedek.
Hebrews 6:19‭-‬20 NLT

Chicken Pox…

My brother was 5 years old when he got the chicken pox. He had a very mild case and I watched as family members brought gifts and my mom catered to his every need. In fact, my Aunt Mary brought him the coolest cactus plant, it was in a small clay pot. I really, really wanted my own cactus.

Shortly after, I woke up with a bump next to my eye and presented myself to my mom. Yep, she confirmed it was a pox and in a wink of an eye, I was back in front of her in my pajamas, with my blankee and my beloved stuffed rabbit, Bobbi ready to be pampered just like my brother.

I did not have a mild case of chicken pox. I was one sick little girl and I still have the scar from that first pox that appeared dangerously close to my right eye to this very day.

Scars are interesting things, aren’t they? A scar is a mark left on the skin or within body tissue where a wound, burn, or sore has not healed completely and fibrous connective tissue has developed. A scar inevitably tells the story of a deep wound and is a visual reminder of that hurt.

We all have scars, don’t we? Some of those scars we carry in our souls and often are inflicted by people that we know and even love. Some scars may even be a result of choices that we’ve made or pain we have inflicted on ourselves.

Jesus has scars too. His scars are the result of the most enormous love we have ever known. He bears those scars on his hands, feet and side, a constant reminder of the price of our sin and the enormity of His grace. You see, there is beauty in your scars because of Jesus.

Do you have wounds that need healing? Let Jesus’ in and let Him heal. As I was reminded this week by teacher, Christine Cain, “what you don’t reveal, God can’t heal.” Jesus’ love leaves a mark and His mark has the power to fully save and fully redeem.

You should know that my Aunt Mary brought me a cactus too, in its own small clay pot. There is always joy after pain! You see, Jesus conquered it all for us. We can trust in His scars. And we can see our scars as a reminder of His strength and His healing. Our scars become part of the fabric of His redemptive story and they can shine His hope to those in pain around us!

Be hopeful!

Soak me in your laundry and I’ll come out clean, scrub me and I’ll have a snow-white life. Tune me in to foot-tapping songs, set these once-broken bones to dancing. Don’t look too close for blemishes, give me a clean bill of health. God, make a fresh start in me, shape a Genesis week from the chaos of my life. Don’t throw me out with the trash, or fail to breathe holiness in me. Bring me back from gray exile, put a fresh wind in my sails! Give me a job teaching rebels your ways so the lost can find their way home. Commute my death sentence, God, my salvation God, and I’ll sing anthems to your life-giving ways. Unbutton my lips, dear God; I’ll let loose with your praise. Psalm 51:7‭-‬15 MSG

Negativity Bias….

Why does negative energy seem to speak louder in our lives? Think about it. You can be having a great day, feeling really good and that one person can raise their eye brows at you and you begin second guessing everything.

I am blessed to teach at a wonderful gym and I truly consider class members like extended family. The support that I receive as an instructor is amazing. Recently though, I found myself distracted by a couple of people who were dissatisfied with class; rather than focusing on the positive majority sweating it out in front of me.

Or how about your social media? You can have a couple dozen likes and several positive comments; but, have you ever found yourself focusing on that one person who never likes your stuff? You make sure you generously like their posts; but can’t get any love back. Please tell me that I am not alone in this folks?

Well ya’ll, it is called negativity bias, a form of cognitive bias which causes humans to subconsciously place more significance on negative events than positive ones, affecting behavior and cognition.* In other words, the struggle is real.

Thankfully, we have freedom from this bias in Christ! We can shift our focus from the negative to God’s truth for our lives. And God is not biased. He loves us the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. You are His favorite! And so am I! His Word provides a daily boost of positive energy, goodness, love, hope and faith!

But, I would be remiss if I didn’t take a closer look at this issue of flesh. It seems to me when it comes to negative bias it is a basic issue of focus. Who am I trying to please? The world? Or Jesus? Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? Matthew 16:24‭-‬26 NIV

So, the next time you find yourself focusing on the negative, stop and reflect on God’s truth for your life. Oh how He loves you. And He wants to be your source of love and light every day. Let Him speak life into your soul! Then, walk in His way, His truth and His light.

Be hopeful!

Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
Ephesians 5:1‭-‬2 NIV

*What is Negativity Bias at whatis.com, Margaret Rouse

New Year’s Resolution…

As 2018 comes to a close, I find myself considering some resolutions for the New Year. But, before I resolve to do anything, I think there are some things that I need to leave right here and not take into tomorrow.

Let’s take one of my favorite go to combinations: guilt mixed with a little shame. Why don’t ya’ll just stay here? I’m done allowing you time in my life. Oh and that pesky guy pride? Well, he can stay in 2018. For that matter fear can stay put too. I’m not interested in living another minute with jealousy based on comparisons and assumptions. And while I’m cleaning house, negativite thoughts and words be gone!

You see, tomorrow brings the opportunity for a fresh start and to resolve some things, which means decide firmly on a course of action. I was reminded that because of Jesus I stand firm in hope. Hope is manifested through God’s love for us and we can live in anticipation of good things to come, even when faced with trials.

So, I resolve in 2019 to be more hopeful. I resolve to see possibilities when faced with challenges. I resolve to find ways to be thankful every day. I resolve to laugh more often and love more deeply. And I resolve to spend time with Jesus each and every day. For it is because of Him that I can resolve to do anything.

Be joyful!

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!
2 Corinthians 5:17 NIV

He’s Here…

We had a Birthday Party for Jesus last night at church. We played a version of the game musical chairs with the children, using a wrapped present. The children passed the present around their circle while the music played; then, when the music stopped whoever was holding the present unwrapped a layer of paper. The person to unwrap the last layer of paper got to keep the gift. This game is so much fun to watch! Each time the music stopped, all of the kids squealed with delight. One little girl in particular caught my attention last night.

She was absolutely “all in” when it came to this game. She squealed along with everyone else and while another child was unwrapping the present she whispered, “please let there by another layer, please, please”, eyes full of delight, she was so stinking cute!

It occurred to me that I want to approach these next four days leading up to Christmas much the same. I want to squeal with delight at the lights, trees, cookies, carols and gifts that surround me. I want to gaze at Jesus in the manger, eyes full of delight and remember that Jesus is born. He’s here for me. I want to whisper to that baby, “please let there be another layer of your love, your hope and your joy in my heart. Please, please.”

I don’t know where this Christmas finds you. Maybe you are dealing with a broken heart, illness, separation from loved ones, depression, anxiety or other disappointments. I encourage you to take time to gaze at that precious baby boy in the manger and find comfort, joy and peace. He dwelt among us. He could have left us on our own. But, He did not. There is nothing that Jesus did not endure after He arrived lowly in that manger and He went on to save each one of us. You are not alone this Christmas, this year or the next. He is here!

Francesca Battistelli reminds us of the beauty of Jesus with her song, You’re Here. I pray these words wash over you and give you Christmas hope!

Hold on now, I gotta take a deep breath; I don’t know what to say when I look in your eyes.
You made the world before I was born; here I am holding you in my arms tonight.
Noel, noel, Jesus our Emmanuel.
You’re here, I’m holding you so near.
I’m staring into the face of my saviour, king and creator.
You could’ve left us on our own, but you’re here.
Don’t know how long I’m gonna have you for; but I’ll be watching when you change the world.
I look at your hand, they’re still so small; someday you’re going to stretch them out and save us all.
Noel, noel, God with us Emmanuel.
Someday I’m gonna look back on this; the night that God became a baby boy.
Someday you’re gonna go home again; but you leave your spirit and flood the world with joy.
Hallelujah! You’re here! Hallelujah! You’re here!

Be joyful! Jesus is here!

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6 NIV

Oh Christmas Tree…

Christmas season is in full swing. Like many others, I typically love this time of year! I spent the day cleaning, doing laundry and thinking a lot about Christmas. Honestly, I have been feeling a bit disconnected from the wonder and joy of the holiday. I don’t know if it is life or hormones (or both); but for some reason I am feeling a bit blue.

I just sat down in front of my Christmas tree, the room darkened from the incoming storm outside and realized that God was once again trying to get my attention. Sweet whispers, “you are blessed. I am light. Take my yoke. I’m still here.”

Consider the lights on your Christmas tree tonight. Have you ever noticed that those lights bring warmth and hope into the room? The lights of the tree are an open invitation to linger, relax and stay a little longer.

Jesus is the Light of the World. And He enteted the world as a baby in a lowly manger to save us. His light is an open invitation to linger, relax and stay a little longer. Jesus brings warmth and hope into our hearts. On such a day as this. Pure radiant glory! We are not alone! Consider His light!

I wonder if you might be feeling disconnected too? If so, I pray that God speaks to your soul today, reminding you of His presence. And I encourage you to look at those Christmas tree lights with complete innocence and abandonment. Jesus is calling. Can you hear Him?

Be joyful!

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:29‭-‬30 NIV