The best superhero power of all

Superheroes are really popular in our culture.  Superheroes that fly, shoot webs, sneak through unseen, super-speed in their cars, karate chop, boast incredible strength, read minds, control magnetic fields, see sound, shift shapes, teleport, wave magic wands, and freeze cities.

But the best, the very best, super power of all is reserved only for God.

Then the man of lawlessness will be revealed, but the Lord Jesus will kill him with the breath of his mouth and destroy him by the splendor of his coming. (2 Thessalonians 2:8, NLT)

cross light

To be so astonishingly pure, so unfathomably holy, so piercingly truthful, so outstandingly good, so unguessably merciful, so unmistakably just, so heart-poundingly generous, and so once-in-an-eternity sacrificial that you can destroy evil by the breath of your mouth–that is a job for God, and only God.

Awesome.

See, my servant will prosper;

he will be highly exalted.

But many were amazed when they saw him.

His face was so disfigured he seemed hardly human,

and from his appearance, one would scarcely know he was a man.

And he will startle many nations.

Kings will stand speechless in his presence.

For they will see what they had not been told;

they will understand what they had not heard about. (Prophesy about Jesus, Isaiah 52:13-15, NLT)

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Published in: on March 31, 2014 at 7:00 am  Leave a Comment  
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Dive in

Leaping into candy gumballs.

My escape in the ball pit as a child.

Completely covered by a popcorn rainbow.

Hidden inside light-as-a-feather rocks.

Tunneling through scoops of bouncy ice cream.

There was something breathtakingly captivating about being totally tucked inside a hill, totally hidden from view, and yet able to breath and squirm and even see.

The ball pit . . marvelous.

Two summers ago, I got to see the very same effect again through the eyes of a child.  I got to meet Helen, a girl I sponsor in Guatemala at a celebration center that had all sorts of children’s play equipment.  Helen came from a rural village and may have never seen a ball pit.  But she dove in like a pro.  She hid way under the pile of colorful balls and then popped out.

Ever since the Garden, there has been something delightful about hiding in goodness.  Adam and Eve tried to hide among the foliage so that God wouldn’t see their sin.  We try to hide in our achievements, entertainment, status, job, and other distractions to keep ourselves away from God, too.

But hiding in God’s goodness–that’s an altogether different story.  Rather than the heavy-laden burden of distraction, hiding in God’s goodness is a light delight.  We can move about freely, totally hidden from our sin, our soul totally buried from Satan’s grasp.

Recommended resources: Dive by Steven Curtis Chapman and Hidden in Christ: Living as God’s Beloved by James Bryan Smith

My God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold and my refuge; My savior, You save me from violence. (2 Samuel 22:3, NASB)

Published in: on March 30, 2014 at 7:00 am  Leave a Comment  
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Flying free

Yesterday, the first day of spring, I had an unusual conversation with a robin.

Close up of a Robin perched on a branch

I could tell right away this was no ordinary robin.

It’s extraordinary for a robin to stop and give you the time of day, much less have a conversation with you in the middle of the day.  A robin has to really be distracted to want to talk to you.  And she was.

She was in a tree, and that was ordinary.  She occasionally fluttered her wings during our talk (as if testing that they still worked) and that was ordinary.  She hopped about on the branch, as if itching to go somewhere, and that was ordinary.

But she had two tiny suitcases, crammed and overflowing, on either side of her.  And so I knew: This was no ordinary robin.

She was struggling with all her bags and not making a bit of progress, and I could tell she could use a friend.

“What is all this stuff?” I asked.

“I’m preparing for my first flight,” she tweeted, her wings twitching in agitation.  “Or I’m trying to.”

“Your . . first flight?”

“I’m not like the other birds,” she explained.  “I didn’t leave my nest when I was a kid.  No ma’am, I stayed right there.  I wanted to be ready.”  She bobbed her head at the nest just beside her.

“But now I’m ready,” she continued, panting as she tugged one of her suitcases closer.  “Ready . . to . . fly.”

“That’s a lot of stuff,” I commented.

“I need a lot of stuff,” she explained.  “Do you know what’s out there? . .”  She shuddered.  Then she pointed her beak to her suitcases.  “Do you know what all I need?”

“No. .”

“My parachute,” she said with a little exasperation.  “How can anyone fly without a parachute?  And my snacks.  Don’t want to faint of low blood sugar in the middle of flight.  And my winter downy jacket in case it gets too cold, and my suntan lotion in case I fly too close to the sun.

“My photographs of my mom and dad, brothers and sisters, and my great-great-great aunt.  The string my mom found in the parking lot last month and the straw my brother brought in from that old barn by caterpillar pond.  I’ve got to bring those with me.  Don’t want anyone stealing my valuables.  And . .” she wiggled her foot.

There was a string tied around her foot.  Now that I noticed it, I saw the other side was tied with a neat bow around her nest, too.

“Can’t leave my house behind,” she said confidently.  “I’ve almost finished the mortgage payments on this nest.”  She looked down reluctantly.  “Nobody better move on this lot while I’m gone.  Do you know what this kind of prime branch costs nowadays?”

“Uh . .”

“More than a sky full of worms, I’ll tell you that,” she said.  And then she added, “Maybe I shouldn’t go.”

I hesitated.

“But . . aren’t you supposed to fly free?” I asked meekly.  “Isn’t that what birds usually do?”

She looked indignant, and robins have a very serious indignant look.

“Do you mean to say,” she asked, “you want me to be unprepared?”

“Well . . no,” I said.  “But how is that parachute going to help you, anyway, if it’s packed in your suitcase?”

“What do you mean?” she asked.  “I’ll have it with me.  That’s all that matters.

“But you can’t put it on mid-air,” I said gently.

“Oh yes I can,” she said.  “Of course I can.  I can fly.”

“But then . . why do you need the . .”

“The problem is,” she continued, ignoring me, “God only gave me two wings.  I don’t know why.  I really need two hands and two wings.  I need to carry all my things.  God must be very mean.  How does He expect me to survive like this?”

“But–”

“. . I’ll just have to go back to my nest,” she said, edging back over the few inches she’d traveled.  “What a shame.  What a pity.  But it’s just not safe.  I’ll have to wait until next year.  Maybe then God will have given me hands so I can fly.  Or an airborne U-haul.  Now that would be helpful.”

“But–”

“–You’ll have to excuse me, but I need a nap after all this thought of travel,” she interrupted.  “Not to mention, these suitcases are heavy.  I think I pulled a feather.

“Now, if you see any worms, send them my way.  Oh, and those little packages of travel peanuts.

“If you see my insurance agent wandering around, would you bring her here?  I think she made a right after the oak instead of a left . . With as close as I got this year to travel, you had better believe I need more flight insurance.”  She shuddered.  “I probably shouldn’t have even gone out on a limb without it.

“Oh, and one more thing,” she said, blinking up at me, “could you help me download a weather app?”

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?”(Jesus, quoted in Matthew 6:25-26, ESV)

Rest

He lets me rest in green meadows;

he leads me beside peaceful streams. (Psalm 23:2, NLT)

Hirtenstab, Schafe

Do you ever just long for rest?

Do you ever wonder why, sometimes when you feel like you really need it, rest does not come?

The verse I’ve quoted is one of the most famous in Psalm 23.  But there’s another famous verse in this chapter, too:

Even when I walk

through the darkest valley,

I will not be afraid,

for you are close beside me. (v. 4)

Most of us would be content to have lives that mirror verse 2 all the time.  Rest, green meadows, and peaceful streams all sound very appealing to me.

The words even, darkest valley, and not be afraid tell a different story, however.  They speak of a place that is a lot of work, lonely, and frightening.

Psalm 23 presents a balance of the life of those who believe in Christ.  Among other verses, these two tell of two times in a Christian’s life: times of rest and times of testing.

The times of rest are amazing for restoration, healing, and rejuvenation.  But they aren’t really times of growth.  We can be close to God in the meadow and beside the stream–but all too easily, we can be far away, too.  We can forget how much we need Him, or even that He’s brought us here.

The times of testing, on the other hand, are amazing for growth, closeness, and trust.  But they aren’t really times of rest.  We can have peace with God in the darkest valley– but all too easily, we can be troubled, too.  We can forget how much He loves us, or even all the good times He’s given to us already.

God, who is so wise and so loving, gives us times of both: rest and testing.  And the most comforting part is, He knows exactly when each time is needed.  God doesn’t put us through a time of testing when we must have rest . . and He also doesn’t give us rest when we really need a time of testing.

I remember hearing years ago that people caught out in snowstorms can have a very easy time falling asleep.  The cold is very subduing.  If they don’t keep themselves vigilant, they can fall asleep in the middle of a snow pile–and die.

God doesn’t allow the believer to spiritually die.  He will always give us times of testing to keep us awake and alert when we need it.  While these times are not going to be enjoyable, they are going to be critical to our development as Kingdom-dwellers.

But we are just sheep, too, and God knows when to give a time of graceful rest for us.  Some of us need to learn simply to receive His time of rest and not practice worrying about dark valleys that may or may not be coming.

Sheep don’t worry while they’re with their shepherd resting.  Rather, they simply enjoy the grass and stream.  When God gives us time of rest, we should receive them as gifts and thank Him . . and rest!

Do you ever just long for rest?

Me, too.

But remember the times of rest God has already given you and remember that, when you really need it . . He will grant you another.

He lets me rest in green meadows;

he leads me beside peaceful streams. (Psalm 23:2, NLT)

Published in: on March 28, 2014 at 7:00 am  Leave a Comment  
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Finished

When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. (John 19:30, ESV)

It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, while the sun’s light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last. (Luke 23:44-46, ESV)

Jesus is the author and finisher of our faith (from Hebrews 12:2).

Finish on streamer

The reality here is incredible to try to realize.  Jesus writes our faith onto our hearts.  Without the cross, without the final act of Jesus taking away sin once and for all by His death, there is no author of our faith.  Without His sacrifice, we are like any other religion or belief system.  We simply have ‘faith in faith’.

But with Christ Jesus, we have infinitely more.  We can have faith in Christ.  The public display of God’s love for us through Jesus reveals His desire for us to have faith in Him.  He could have died for us in a jail cell where we couldn’t have seen what happened.  But as the prophets foretold, He chose to die for us in a public place that could not be ignored–on a hill outside the busiest city in His nation.

If people could somehow ignore Jesus on the cross at Golgotha, they could not ignore the earthquake or the darkness in the sky.  God was showing as clearly as possible that, once and for all, Jesus was dying for the sin of the world.  The Gospel of Matthew even tells us that the tombs broke open during the earthquake (see Matt. 27:52).  When Jesus rose again, many who had trusted God rose, too, further announcing the resurrection life Jesus was offering by His death.

When Jesus said, “It is finished”, He knew every penny of our sin was totally paid, every drop of blood spilled to pay the price, every good work fully accomplished.  Every Word of Scripture was fulfilled, every thought of His Father carried through.  It was all completed, and the infinite grief and agony He had experienced in becoming sin for us (see 2 Cor. 5:21) was over.

There is no greater encouragement during our struggles in this life than to realize that everything important, everything good, and everything beautiful has already been fulfilled through Jesus Christ.

As we run the race to serve Him, we recognize that He has already authored our faith (written the story of His love on our hearts), and He has already finished His trials that give us perseverance of that faith.  Faith begins and ends with Christ and, when we remember that, we can hold on, no matter how tough times get.

The race has already been won.  And now we who believe in Jesus Christ get to follow Him to the finish line.  Amen!!

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2, ESV)

Published in: on March 27, 2014 at 7:00 am  Leave a Comment  
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The Benefits of Peacemaking

Blessed are those who make peace. They will be called God’s children. (Matthew 5:9, GW)

Some people are so busy holding a grudge, gossip, and contention that they have no room to pack anything else into their lives.

Car very full of suitcases and bags before leaving for vacationIn fact, if we’re honest, that’s most of us at one time or another.

Imagine you could suddenly move to a paradise getaway only two days drive by car.  You should pack your van full of stuff to take with you because, once you’re there, there’s no going back.  What would you pack?

Resentment?  Arguments?  Complaining?

Or would you pack love, gentleness, and thankfulness?

If you believe in Christ, you’re on your way to Paradise.  But what will you bring with you to show Him?  Will you bring jealousy?  Rage?  Spite?  Would you be proud if you opened your trunk and bitterness, contempt, and malice spilled out?

This life is the one chance we get to pack for the Kingdom. (If you don’t know Him, you’ve got a packed van heading nowhere.  But that can totally change the moment you open your heart and mind to Him.)

What do you want to pack?

Blessed are those who make peace. They will be called God’s children. (Matthew 5:9, GW)

Published in: on March 26, 2014 at 3:51 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Just

But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. (1 John 1:9, NLT)

In all my times of reading this verse, only tonight has the word just struck me.

. . he is faithful and just to forgive . .

Faithful–check.  I understand that about God, even take it for granted.

And just–check, too.  But, wait a minute.  Not in this context.

Gold scales of justice on brown background

I’ve heard most of my life about the justice of God to punish sin.  And that makes sense.  Sin is more serious than we can even imagine–and only Jesus can atone for it.

But God is just to forgive sin?

Wait a minute.  Why just?

Is He just because we confess our sin?  That doesn’t make sense to me.  If I commit a crime and tell a judge about it, I wouldn’t say the judge was just to forgive my crime.

Why just?

There can only be one reason.

Jesus.

Jesus paid the price for sin.  Fully.  So it would actually be unjust for God to withhold His forgiveness from you when you repent (turn to Him for a new start).

Wow.

It would actually be unjust for God to withhold His forgiveness from me when I repent.

Have you ever wondered if God would save you?  If you’ve sinned too much?  This Scripture is a passage to memorize.

God has given the ultimate “much”: Jesus Christ, His Son.  This ultimate much pays for every sin.  So when you ask to receive His forgiveness, His ultimate much wipes out your sin so dramatically and so perfectly that it would be unjust for God to act any other way than to forgive you.

Wow.

Isn’t God good?

Whatever is good and perfect comes down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens. He never changes or casts a shifting shadow. (James 1:17, NLT)

Master Chef

My father was a master chef, even though he made noodles, tomato soup, and Malt-o-Meal. Even today, years after his death, the world is still tasting the results of his recipes.

No, not the noodles and tomato soup and Malt-o-Meal. Those were good, but only to a seven-year-old daddy’s girl. The kind of recipes I’m talking about were recipes made over thirty years of quiet, but very intense, love. Ingredient by ingredient, my father stirred together moments that effect the world even today. My father was a master chef.

This is about what I learned from my father, the master chef.

A master chef is patient. Nearly every chef has had the experience of making something delicious, only to find that an ignorant taster thinks it’s just “okay” or doesn’t even like it. A master chef has to be patient. He has to recognize that the taster may have to acquire taste-buds, and that acquiring tastebuds can take a long time. He has to believe in the taster, educate the taster, and keep encouraging the taster to stretch her palette.

My father was very patient with me. Even though I was about as spiritually developed as a can of spam, he encouraged and prayed for filet mignon spirituality. He didn’t see the result of his hard work, but, several years after his death, I began to trust in Christ with the flavorful depth he was hoping I would.

A master chef is precise. He plans carefully for his meal. Every ingredient is there for a reason, each quantity deliberate. A master chef doesn’t guess; he knows.

My father planned carefully for his eternity. He crafted his life around Christ, and the inner-workings of his days reflected that. His job as a computer programmer served missionaries and clergy. His unglamorous willingness to do laundry, dishes, and vacuum encouraged me to see the same sort of servant-heart for a husband. His quiet visits to the elderly made him a star in their books. He lived his life by the blueprint of God’s Word.

A master chef is consistent. He doesn’t produce a masterpiece one night and a flop the next. Although it may appear effortless to his customers, a master chef works tirelessly to ensure each meal is like the previous in quality and regularity.

Probably my father’s greatest likeness to a master chef was his consistency. Day after day after day after day, he served at work, at home, and through our church. My father was reliable and trustworthy. He could be depended on to serve even when he was tired or it was raining or cold or dark. My father cared a great deal more about people than he cared about circumstances that might prevent him from helping them.

The noodles, tomato soup, and Malt-O-Meal all had their place in a young girl’s heart. But the legacy of love my father left was the greatest masterpiece of all. His commitment (patience), passion (precision), and integrity (consistency) in His walk with Christ can’t really be explained by the metaphor I’ve chosen of a master chef. The only way to really know what my father is like is to taste the recipes he left behind.

. . no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw-each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. (1 Corinthians 3:11b-14, ESV)

Published in: on March 25, 2014 at 2:48 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Claw Machine

Capture device for soft toys on background of heap of toys

Your thoughts are more like a claw machine than you might think. What our mind pulls up is sometimes the machine on autopilot like the ones in local stores around here. They show off the machines function by randomly setting it to mill around the machine, never actually grabbing anything. What our mind pulls up is sometimes triggered by something in our environment-something someone said or we saw-and we may or may not have wanted to grab ahold of that thought. Sometimes our mind malfunctions, like with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and we keep pulling up something we didn’t want in the first place. In all of these cases, learning the release on the claw machine (I know, they don’t really have them in real life) is critical. Letting go of a thought and dropping it back in the machine-that can take a lot of effort, sometimes the help of a mental health professional, and, above all, prayer.

Many times, though, what we pull up isn’t an accident. Many times, what we pull up is our own choice. In these times, what we think about is a reflection of what we’re trying to grab. What ends up in the deposit box if a reflection of this thinking. It’s what happens in your alone time and in the time you’re acting like you’re engaged with someone or something, but you’re really thinking about something else. The “prizes” you carry home with you are what you spend your time trying to grab. These prizes are always a secret between you and God. You are the only two who know about them. As you react to the prizes you get, others may suspect what you’re thinking about, but most of the time, no one will know for sure. Only you and God.

I don’t know about you, but it’s so easy for my mind to go on “auto-pilot” and lose these precious moments of pulling thoughts I really want to have to mind. It’s also easy for my mind to slip into aggressive worries and regrets of the past rather than purposefully mining for treasure. Whatever your mind is doing, know that there is hope.

God commands us to love Him with all of our mind. We’ve all chosen to sin and we’re all fallen, so no one except Christ will ever fully do this in this life. But we can strive to know Him more. Every time we let go of a thought we didn’t want, to search for the truth of God, we’re learning how to love Him with more of our thought life. Every time we capture a thought for Christ, we show that we’re serious about loving God with our minds.

It’s time to recognize the claw machine within your head-and start targeting the thoughts you’re proud for God to see you think, and prizes you’re glad to give to the King.

. . we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:5, NIV)

Published in: on March 25, 2014 at 7:00 am  Leave a Comment  
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Tea Time

cupcakes dessert

As a little girl, one of my favorite times was tea time with my mom. Not much has changed since then. Talking around coffee or tea-especially with cupcakes-is simply quintessential for many girls like me.

Why?

We are creatures who long for communication (like girl time) and affirmation (like cupcakes). It may sound crazy, but eating dessert with a friend feels like sharing approval of any conversation that happens.

That’s why it’s so important to watch what we say. It’s so easy to get caught up in the girl time and cupcakes, and forget that God is listening to our conversations. In this life, what was say might never be repeated outside the tea shop (or it may), but it can still damage the reputation of others. Even if what we say is true (and not at all exaggerated), most of the time it’s not necessary.

Scripture tells us to build each other up-and not just because it isn’t nice to say bad things about others. When we are negative, we not only dampen the atmosphere and spoil the cupcakes, but we have the potential to damage relationships that aren’t even at the table.

Suppose someone has done some harm to you, and she’s good friends with the friend sharing tea with you. Do you harm their friendship and share the grudge? Or do you let it go and enjoy the frosting? What’s more, what if a friend of one of your friends had a grudge against you (maybe rightly so)? Would you want her to share what you did over cupcakes?

The choice is always ours in this life. We have the God-given gifts of communication and affirmation. We can honor Him with them or we can dishonor ourselves with them.

Let’s choose to share cupcakes, not gossip.

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. (Ephesians 4:29, NIV)

 

Published in: on March 24, 2014 at 7:00 am  Leave a Comment  
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