Hunker Down

20 11 2015

“O God, listen to my cry! Hear my prayer! From the ends of the earth, I cry to You for help when my heart is overwhelmed. Lead me to the towering rock of safety, for You are my safe refuge, a fortress where my enemies cannot reach me. Let me live forever in your sanctuary, safe beneath the shelter of Your wings.” – Psalm 61:1-4

These words speak to me in a special way today. They echo the cry of a heart that is struggling, fighting for hope, pressed hard by circumstances, and overwhelmed. Been there? There now? Too many times overwhelmed is the address of my heart. Stressed, exhausted, empty, and fearful become the markers of my soul.

David’s advice? Hunker down and pray.

Hunker down is a phrase that means “to settle in or dig in for a good long wait.” It is a good phrase and good advice. When our hearts are overwhelmed, David reminds us that the best place to be is settled in God’s presence. He is our refuge. He is our towering rock of safety. He calls us into the fortress of His faithfulness and invites us to take up residence there, to make ourselves at home, to dig in and dig deeply into grace.

From within the towering rock of safety, our perspective changes. His power, His timing, His goodness, and His glory give my heart new eyes. When we hunker down in His fortress, our position changes. Settled into His presence, our enemies cannot reach us. The enemies of worry, doubt, anxiety, fear, and disquiet are forced to stay outside the boundaries of His love. When we hide ourselves in Him, our priorities change. When we are overwhelmed our eyes are everywhere but on Him. Surrounded by His presence, our first, best choice is to let ourselves be loved.

My Jesus Resolution today is to follow David’s advice. When the storm rages, when the struggles press in, when the disappointments knock, when the rug is being pulled out from under me, God calls me to imagine myself safe in the shelter of His wings. No need to be frantic. No need to panic. Just rest in His presence. Breathe. Trust. Wait. Hunker down and pray.

Thank You

18 11 2015

“God gave you a gift of 86,400 seconds today. Have you used one to say ‘thank you?’” ~William A. Ward 

Gratitude is an art. It has a beauty that inspires, a rhythm that helps us dance, and a warmth that results in smiles. Gratitude is more than casually saying two words. Gratitude notices. Gratitude loves. Gratitude sees God in the moment. Gratitude changes how we think. Gratitude softens our hearts.

Take a few of the precious seconds God has given you today and be creative about expressing your gratitude. Here are ten gratitude-giving ideas to help you get started.

1. Buy (or pick) a single flower. Attach a note that says, “Thanks for helping me bloom.”

2. Bake some cookies, and tell someone thanks for the sweet way they….

3. Share a cup of coffee with someone. Thank them for always being your pick-me-up.

4. Create a trail of colored notes at your child’s eye level. On each one, write a single word that tells them something about them for which you are thankful.

5. Have a family gratitude circle. Everyone gets a chance to say one thing they are thankful for about each family member.

6. Cut out a paper heart. Write down ten reasons you are grateful for your spouse. Put it in their lunch, or sock drawer, or briefcase.

7. Set a “thankful alarm” on your phone. Stop. Be still. Tell Him thank you.

8. Turn off the television and see how many blessings you can write down in the time it would have taken you to watch a show.

9. Take a plate of goodies to your local fire station, police station, or school. Thank them for the way they serve your community.

10. Find a small mirror. Give it to someone who inspires you in your walk with God. Tell them thank you for helping you look like Jesus.

My Jesus Resolution today is to say thank you. When my heart is full of gratitude, I don’t have a lot of room left over for grumbling. My eyes see my day differently through the lens of thanksgiving. Gratitude gives my soul a chance to search for God in the ordinary, regular, usual pieces of my day. When I find His fingerprints, it changes ordinary into extraordinary, mostly because it changes me.

The Battle

16 11 2015

“You may have to fight a battle more than once to win it.” – Margaret Thatcher 

I have an ongoing battle in my garden. Despite my best efforts, weeds keep popping up amid my carefully cultivated plants. I mulch, water, prune, and nourish my plants. I watch for disease, pull off the dead to help the living thrive, and get my fingers pricked by thorns, but the weeds still come back. I dream of beauty, look in wonder at the way flowers open, petals unfurl, and butterflies carry nectar from stem to stem, but still struggle with stragglers finding their way into my little plot of earth. It requires regular vigilance to keep the weeds from taking over my garden.

Those of you who are more experienced planters than I are probably shaking your heads. Of course. Dealing with weeds is part of the process of growing flowers, fruit, vegetables, and herbs. If you want to enjoy the produce of the ground, you are going to have to pull some weeds.

My soul is a lot like that garden. Weeds keep popping up amidst the beauty that I want to see cultivated in my heart. But here, I am more easily frustrated. Why, when I pull a weed once, does it come back? Why do I have to struggle over and over against the same habits, same temptations, and the same thought patterns? I sometimes feel like a failure when I examine my soul garden and see the weed I pulled last week grow right back.

Margaret Thatcher was right. You may have to fight a battle more than once to win it. Spiritual growth is a process, a journey. It doesn’t happen overnight. We don’t become full-blown reflections of Jesus in a day. Habits, tendencies, mindsets, and ways of thinking are not transformed in the blink of an eye. It takes steady surrender, regular repentance, and daily dependence to fight the weeds that seek to take root in the soul.

My Jesus Resolution today is to fight the battle…again. Jesus has already won the victory. I have to learn to live within His triumph. That means focusing on the reason He plants Himself within us. He is growing His own likeness in the soil of our hearts. Weeds will pop up. Dealing with them on a daily basis will keep them from taking over.

Count It All Joy

13 11 2015

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds.”

– James 1:2

Nobody volunteers for trials. We would all rather have sunny days and blue skies. We like rainbows, but would rather avoid the storms that by definition have to come first. But the truth is we live in a world of struggle. Sometimes life hits us hard. There are times when it knocks us flat, taking our breath away, and leaves us reeling from the devastation in its wake. It’s tough.

Even when my heart hurts, I know all the right things to say. My character is being built. Consistent faith lights the way for others. God is going to redeem this for His glory. Someway. Somehow. But God calls us to do more than survive trials. He wants us to discover joy on dark days and in shattered dreams. How do you learn to count it all joy when you are bruised, beaten, and broken by the world?

The answer is to do just what James says. We have to count our way to joy. We have to rehearse the goodness of God. We have to number the ways He touches each circumstance. We have to count the grace, count the blessings, count the miracles, count the transformation, count the peace, count the places healed, count the pieces He puts back together, count the seeds planted, count the lessons learned, count the mistakes forgiven, and count the countless ways He loves us through the pain. When we do, we stop cataloguing our misery and count our way to joy.

My Jesus Resolution today is to count joy. Today I am going to number God moments. I am going to count my blessings, answered prayers, words of encouragement, kindnesses received, laughs shared, tears cried, peace experienced, and rainbows seen. Counting our way to joy doesn’t deny or erase the pain. It puts it in perspective. It reminds us that even in our darkest trials, God is counting our hairs and bottling our tears. We can’t avoid trials, but we can learn to count our way to joy while we go through them.

Unknown Blessings

11 11 2015

Give thanks for unknown blessings already on their way. ~Native American proverb 

How is God going to bless you today? It seems like a silly question. We don’t know what the future is going to hold. We aren’t sure how things are going to unfold, what challenges we will face, or what lies just over the horizon. How can we give thanks for what we can’t yet imagine?

Here is the truth about our God. He has seen tomorrow. He knows what each one of your minutes will hold. He knows the struggles you will face, the troubles that will scare you, the potholes that will jar you, and the exhilarating moments that will make you smile. There is no unknown where God is concerned.

There is great peace in knowing that each one of our days is fully known by God. His promises take on an added richness when we understand that He stands ready to help us face what is ahead. He assures us that His presence will be with us through the thin and thick. He guarantees sufficient grace to meet any need. He posts peace as a sentry around our hearts. His power and His provision are as close as a prayer.

Learning to give thanks in advance reminds my heart to be confident that God is on my side. He is already working on my behalf. He is preparing to move in each one of my moments in order to bring about His purpose and fulfill His glory. Being thankful relieves the worry and tension that often fill my thoughts when I look into the future. It allows me to greet each morning with worship and joy as I praise Him for the way He has already filled the day with blessings.

My Jesus Resolution today is to give thanks in advance. Being grateful encourages me to anticipate His hand on my day. When I give thanks for unknown blessings, it calls me to keep my eyes open and my heart ready. It allows me to face each situation with peace because I know that God has already seen and provided exactly what I need. Being thankful in advance changes my posture and my perspective. I don’t know how God is going to bless me today, but I know with absolute certainty that He will. Discovering those blessings is the gift that makes this day worth living.

The Heart Scan

9 11 2015

My friend had a heart procedure this week. After experiencing some discomfort, the doctors determined that they needed to take a look at my friend’s heart in order to see if there were any problems or concerns.

Settling into prayer, I smiled at the thought of the doctors trying to capture a picture of my friend’s heart. Looking at mere muscle and blood flow will never help them see the love she has for her family, her generous nature, her wonder at the ways of God, her infectious enthusiasm, or the way she giggles when she gets tickled about something. I wanted to send her doctors a message before the exam. “Say hi to Jesus when you find Him in her heart.”

I am thankful for medical technology and the health that it allows us to enjoy. I am also grateful that it doesn’t take a specialized procedure for me to see and benefit from the best things about my friend’s heart. She shares them with me every day.

Each day our hearts are on display for the world. Our words reveal our character. Our actions expose our priorities. Our choices showcase our motives. Others notice the integrity of our commitment, our confidence in the face of struggle, and the alignment of our words and our actions. Whether we realize it or not, the world is scanning our hearts every day looking for evidence of Jesus.

My Jesus Resolution today is to do a heart scan. I am going to cut out a paper heart and spend a few minutes writing down what I want others to see when they look at me. I want words like joy, grace, humility, surrender, and thanksgiving to come into focus when people catch a glimpse of my heart. I am going to spend time with the Great Physician today, asking Him to do what is necessary to heal and transform my heart for His glory. Mostly, I want to be like my friend. Someone whose heart is shaped like and by the cross.

Every Page

6 11 2015

She is almost two years old and cute as a button. Soft curls flip the ends of her blonde hair around her sweet rosy cheeks. She loves Minnie Mouse, mirrors, and her little pink Bible.

Sitting next to each other, her giggles and my smiles filled the moment with precious joy. She was animated and excited about going to Bible class. She saw her teacher enter the room, and almost jumped out of her chair. Mom caught her with a practiced arm, settling her back into place.

Eyeing the room, this little one caught sight of her older sister reading Mom’s Bible. With a delighted expression, my little seatmate grabbed her pink Bible, handed it to me, and said, “Read!” We opened the pages, found a spot, and I asked her, “What does it say? It says ‘Jesus loves me!’” We “read” several sections of the Bible together before she took her Bible, tucked it under her arm, and kneeled down in her chair.

Then came the holy moment. This little angel decided to read the Bible for herself. She carefully opened God’s book, asking herself the question that is the basis for all good Bible study – “What does it say?” With each page, she whispered the answer written in every word – “Jesus loves me!” Satisfied, she bowed her head, and I caught my breath in wonder.

My Jesus Resolution today is to learn the lesson she already has written on her heart. Every page of the Bible, every word, every paragraph, every sentence is infused with one truth – Jesus loves me. Every miracle displays the might of His love. Every commandment searches the depth of His love. Every prophecy stretches out the length of His love. Every story of every person reveals the intimate touch of His love. Today, when I open my Bible, I am going to ask myself, “What does it say?” No matter what page I am on, I know that the answer will be, “Jesus loves me!”

Learn Something

4 11 2015

When was the last time you read your Bible? Maybe it was this morning; maybe many mornings ago. The neat thing about the Bible is that there is always something new to discover in its pages. Its lessons are timeless, its wisdom is precious, and its truths are unshakeable.

Here are ten things you will learn when you open your Bible today.

1. God loves you. (Notice the period at the end of that sentence. There are no conditions, no what ifs, no maybes.)

2. God means what He says.

3. Forgiveness is yours, right now, right here.

4. He has a plan in mind just for you.

5. Praise is your purpose.

6. Transformation is one surrender away.

7. Jesus really is the answer.

8. Humility will open doors that pride closes.

9. Kindness makes more of a difference than we can imagine.

10. There will be more things to learn tomorrow.

My Jesus Resolution today is to learn something. I want to learn the lessons God has in store for me today. Too many times I glance when I should glean. I hurry when I should be hushed. I carefully wade in rather than spectacularly sink into His grace. I want to hear His voice, listen to His wisdom, and let His instructions etch themselves deeply into my heart. I long for wonder to define my days. I ache for peace to soothe my nights. Today I am going to open my Bible. I want to learn something.

The Shadow

2 11 2015

He is two-years-old and as cute as a button. Dark, curly hair top curious eyes and a giant smile. His head barely reaches the top of the pew, but he loves going to church, and on this night, he preached a sermon.

My son was leading singing. He is young, and this is new ground for him. He is learning what it means to be a leader. The Sunday night crowd was encouraging as he stood amidst the pews and led songs that pointed them toward Jesus. But it was what was happening in the background that caught my attention.

Just a few feet away from my son, this little boy had planted himself in his shadow. I just happened to be at the right angle to catch the moment. As my son directed the song, this little guy lifted his arm and began copying his movements. He made big, sweeping arcs as he mimicked the way my son was singing. When my son straightened his shoulders, so did the little boy. When he put his arm down, so did his little shadow.

The little boy didn’t say a word, but he taught me a powerful lesson. People are watching the way I look like Jesus. Our words, actions, steps, and attitudes become concrete markers of what it means to live the Christian life. Every move I make has a ripple effect. It touches someone else. If they stand in my shadow and do what I do, will they be imitating Jesus?

My Jesus Resolution today is to write 1 Corinthians 11:1 on my heart and in my actions – “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” My neighbors are watching as I come and go today. Will they see Jesus in my movements? My family is touched by my priorities. Do they point them to Christ? My friends listen to more than my words. Do they hear the Lord? We all have a shadow. I want mine to be shaped like a cross.

Boys Will Be Boys

30 10 2015

Our society has a saying – boys will be boys. It is meant as a license for bad behavior and a free pass to act in ways that are foolish and immature. Too many of us buy into the ‘boys will be boys’ mentality. We paint all young men with a brush that says that they are incapable of being anything more than the sum of their hormones and base desires. Jesus teaches us differently.

Jesus was a boy. He was born male, and walked this earth as a young boy, teenaged guy, and adult man. Jesus was born into a family that taught Him how to honor the presence and purpose of God for His life. As an adolescent, He obeyed His parents and grew in wisdom, stature, and favor with God and men. As an adult, He listened to the voice of God, doing His Father’s will and surrendering His life to His eternal plan.

Jesus is the Model for our sons, grandsons, nephews, little boys, teenaged boys, all boys. Too many times we assume the worst about our boys, rather than expecting them to live like the Best. We give into the world’s wisdom, allowing society to set our standards, color our vision, and define our expectations. When we look at our young men, we can choose to see the world’s reality or the potential they have in Christ. We can settle for leaving the bar in the dirt, or raising the bar to the standard of Jesus.

My Jesus Resolution today is to raise my sons to look like Jesus. They do not have to be who the world tells them they are. Choosing to be a man like Jesus is the harder, longer, more difficult path. It requires men willing to look like Jesus in transparent and personal ways in the lives of my boys. It calls for women who will live out God’s own unique call for their lives in front of them. It means finding role models who will walk with them and encourage them to be more. It demands diligence, determination, and discipline. The ‘boys will be boys’ mentality diminishes the possibilities of transformation and the power that flows from the empty tomb. I want my boys to be more. God says that they can look like Jesus.