Mary and me

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”

And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.

It’s that time of year again. Christmas. Advent. I can’t count the number of times I have read this passage (above) in celebration of Christ’s birth. Each time I do, I’m freshly amazed and blessed. Awe-struck that God went to such great and beautiful lengths to rescue mankind, and privileged to personally know the “reason for the season” when so many are drifting through this month on a love-hate relationship with the most commercial and demanding time of year.

Each year, I’m also reminded that the Truth of Christmas—the Truth of Christ is not meant to just supply us with head knowledge, something we just feel good about knowing. Every truth in Scripture is meant to bless us personally as the Spirit breathes on it afresh, changing us from the inside out.

Today, He pointed out something in this section of Scripture I hadn’t ever noticed before.

The angel Gabriel comes to greet Mary with the proclamation that she has found favor with God, and proceeds to tell her that she will bear the Son of God. He goes on to declare many things about who Jesus will be: “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

But he doesn’t tell her exactly what’s going to happen in between.

If I were presented with such a massive assignment, I would definitely be needing more details.

Is He going to know He’s the Son of God?

When will other people know?

What do I tell everyone?

How do I raise the Son of God?

Mary has just one question here: “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”

This is where God will have to overshadow her, do the impossible, fill her lack with His Power. This is the key point in every move of God where people recognize it originated with God and therefore requires God’s Power to be accomplished.

God promises to do the impossible, but He doesn’t fill in all the details for Mary. Only that He will provide. He will work His will. She must simply obey. And trust Him.

I think of the things I have said yes to, and how frustrated I have felt when God presents me with a big-picture assignment that sounds amazing, and then hands it to me without filling in details. Questions flood my mind and heart.

Why can’t someone else do this?

When is everything going to fall into place?

How am I going to handle this?

What is this going to cost me?

But Mary’s story reminded me that I’m not the only one.

God’s response to Mary’s questions, the ones she asked and the ones she didn’t, was Himself. His Power. His Love. His Great Story of Redemption that she was a part of.

God isn’t being cruel or unreasonable when He doesn’t provide all the information for an assignment. Maybe all you have initially is the soft whisper of His Holy Spirit encouraging you, prompting you to make a move. But whether you receive a gentle word or an angelic visitation, God is inviting you into His Storyso much bigger than what you can see right now. He’s inviting us to lean into Him for everything we will need and anchor ourselves in the belief that nothing set by God can be impossible.

But it doesn’t stop there. In His Kindness, God points out to Mary that her cousin Elizabeth is already pregnant with the forerunner of the Christ. Mary immediately sets out to see her, and the faith of both women is strengthened. Elizabeth declares: “Blessed is she who believed what the Lord said!”

We will be blessed also, if we hold fast our confidence, firm to the end.

So be encouraged in anything the Lord has asked you to do—the assignment that seems never-ending, the dream that’s on hold, the daily obedience you’re walking out. God is with you in it, to perform His Mighty Work. Trust Him with the unknowns, because you’re a part of something so much bigger. Something the angels will sing about.

 

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Another Chapter

The other night, I was letting my mind wander, waiting for sleep, and I heard God gently intercept my thoughts with a question: What about your story?

My heart is for stories. I am a huge believer in the power of stories to shape our lives and help us hear God better. They have the power to redirect our minds off of ourselves long enough for us to hear messages we weren’t open to before. This is why I wish people would choose their reading materials and entertainment sources more carefully, because there are stories all around us and each one affects us in deep places, often without us being aware of it. But we have the choice of what stories we are going to open ourselves up to and be influenced by…what stories we will allow to shape our perspectives and therefore our lives. I think the best place to start is with the Bible–History…the story God has been scripting in time and in eternity before time itself was even created. These accounts in Scripture are dearest to my heart. The grand story, as it has been said, where the Author is in love with the reader.

I often forget however, that this Story is still going on. Even though the official biblical canon has closed, we are still living in God’s plan for humanity, watching His purposes unfold, still walking in His mercy and favor, still heading for eternity with endless opportunities to let God write our stories, and through His Spirit’s leading and empowerment, to make our times on this earth count.

What about your story?

It’s a good question for the New Year. I feel like with this question, God is calling me to remember our story…His and mine, the story He’s called me into.

So often, I make the mistake of acting like the best stories have already been written and the best I can do is model my life after a biblical hero/heroine. However, A. W. Tozer provides a stunning perspective on the biblical characters: “At the time, they didn’t know they were heroes.”

Their struggles were the same as ours–universal, human struggles. The only difference was time and place. Their doubts were the same. Their fears and weaknesses were the same.

But most importantly, their God was the same. He never changes. The way to Him has only been opened wider because of the advent of Jesus Christ and the gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church.

I feel convicted and inspired this new year to look at my own life through God’s eyes. It was as though He took my hand and led me into a movie screen, where I watched significant moments of my life pass before my eyes. They weren’t necessarily all “big” moments. Some of them were so private, only I was there for them. But God was there too. He highlighted Himself in those moments to me, opening my eyes afresh to see how He was there and has always been there–the main Character, the Author and Director, the Star of the show.

And the wonderful thing about knowing He’s the Author is knowing that He will finish what He began!

If you are in Christ, this is true for you too! So many times, I’ve told people stories of things God has done in my life and watched them act as though God had never done anything like that for them. I have been blessed with a detailed memory, and I’m an avid personal journalist. Remembering is key for me. But even though it’s one of my gifts, I still have to practice, devote myself to it, set my mind on things above. And this year, I’ve been encouraged afresh to do just that.

Believe it. God has been at work in your life in so many ways, more than you could ever ask or think. If you need help seeing it, ask Him to heal your eyes. To open the eyes of your heart. He will surely do it.

Just as He’s opening mine, more every day. Slowly waking me up.

Here’s to another chapter! Welcome, 2018!

Autumn Embers

There’s something about Autumn sunrises that’s truly spectacular. Something that makes peeling off the covers and heading to work in the bitter AM worth it.

When it’s early enough that the sky is still that dark slate color, it’s like God strikes a match and lights a tiny candle in the horizon. For a while, there’s nothing else… just the growing glory in the distance, spreading layers of goldenrod and peach brushstrokes, higher and wider, painting the night away with brave color.

Then it bursts.

When that flame hits the trees, it’s fiery and red and bathing everything, like hot, melted butter. Tree bark is tinted russet, like burnished copper, and the streets have the same reddish glow. You can’t look directly across a field pointed east, but you can see the rays, outstretched like arms across corn fronds and newly-mown grass. It’s all one color–syrupy gold, transforming the tops of harvest’s crackling remains into glowing embers. You can almost breathe the brightness, and it makes you wonder if the sun ever really shone at all the rest of the year.

I always get breathless taking pictures of Autumn colors. Something about the trees shaking off their leaves with every breeze gives me the feeling that the scene is changing every second and might not be exactly the same if I don’t hurry. Every year I feel the pull of summer’s last sigh. The rush when the new air first chills my face. The lonesome honk of the geese, their fleeing forms etched dark against the red sky. That enigmatic tug towards the holidays that no one would trade for the world, even though it makes people rush and scatter like the leaves. It’s inescapable, and every year, I willingly go along.

But part of me doesn’t want it to move so quickly. Autumn feels like the fastest season, and seems to mirror all of life–wind-blown and skittish. Leaves dancing just ahead of you, barely out of your grasp, then collecting for quiet moments of inspection and study on the forest floor. Maybe that’s why I feel more at home here than in than any other season.

Something about the unsteady hush, the held breath, the golden summer slipping into cold sleep in a burst of falling color awakens embers deep inside of me. Extra adrenaline dances in my stomach, and I feel a fresh static in my smile, a knowing that’s both stirring and comforting, like destiny. Because for a few months, nature has finally become as brisk and sharp and multicolored as I am.

 

 

 

Raising the Future

Today, I heard someone comment that people shouldn’t be having children, because the world is so terrible.

Don’t get me wrong, I have struggled with anxieties about the future…the world is definitely a different place than when I was growing up. But the comment was so harsh, blatant, universal that it stayed with me all throughout the day, reverberating like the black spots that streak your vision after a camera flashes in your eyes. In the moment, I gave a brief rebuttal, but being a writer who is constantly editing my own work, I spent the rest of the day trying to sort out a solid argument in my head. What was it that was so offensive about this?

It’s because it’s more than a comment. It represents a worldview. A worldview that is defeatist, anti-family, and choked by fear.

First of all, let me point out that while our society is certainly depraved, increasingly violent, and sickeningly selfish, every parent in history has worried about what sort of world they are leaving for their kids. I’ve read countless stories of people rushing for cover during the bombings of WWII, sending their children overseas alone during the famines of Europe, or watching the skies anxiously, wondering if Russia was going to attack. And the further back you look in history, the worse things seem to get, especially for Christians. From the destruction of Jerusalem and the bloody days of the early Church martyrs to the struggles of believers throughout the Reformation — life has always been a battle because this world is fallen.

In John 17, Jesus says of His Followers, “I have given them Your Word and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.”

And yet, immediately afterwards, in verse 15, Jesus prays to His Father, “I do not ask that You take them out of the world, but that You protect them from the evil one.”

From the genesis of Christianity, we see that the ideals of Christ’s Kingdom are in direct contrast to the defeatist spirit that causes people to want to run and hide. Jesus Christ calls us into a battle–not with people, but against the darkness in the world (Eph. 6:12). It’s all over the Bible that life will be a struggle for those who believe. Still, we are called to engage. But not alone.

The hall of faith in the book of Hebrews lists many well-known figures from the Old Testament, people like Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Moses…and makes it clear that they struggled through persecution and danger. Yet part of their legacy was that they “conquered kingdoms, enforced justice…were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight, received back the dead through resurrection” Hebrews 11:33-35. Quite a legacy! Mentioned in this list are Moses’ parents. Surrounded by slavery, poverty, and imminent death, Moses definitely wasn’t born into ideal circumstances. And yet, here is what Scripture says about his mother and father: “By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden by his parents, because they…were not afraid” (Hebrews 11:23). A famous deliverer of Israel, a man who talked with God Himself, was set on the path God had for him because of the faith of his parents. These people of faith please God, because their lifestyles make it clear that they put their hope in God and not their surroundings. “Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared for them a city” (Hebrews 11:13-16).

In the midst of telling His disciples many troubling things, Jesus says, “I have said these things to you, that in Me you may have Peace. In the world you will have trouble. But take heart; I have overcome the world” John 16:33. Jesus makes clear throughout John 15-17 that He was not leaving His Children alone, but sending us His Spirit.

We were never meant to do anything in our own strength–parenting included. In John 15, Jesus assures us that apart from Him, we can do nothing. Fleshly humanity is broken. There will never be a perfect environment on Earth in which to raise kids. Only God can raise up a God-fearing generation. A wise Revivalist once said, “The only thing that pleases God is that which He does Himself.” In His High-Priestly prayer in John, Jesus tells His Father, “They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in Your Truth. Your Word is Truth.” This is the equipping we are given–God Himself gives us of His Own Spirit to enable us to win every battle. And this includes the battles we will wage as parents.

The Bible makes it clear that children are a gift, a heritage from the Lord (Psalm 127:3). Of course, the responsibility isn’t to be taken lightly, but we were never intended to take it on in our own strength. If we abide continually in God, He has promised that we will bear much fruit (John 15).

Mother’s Day is around the corner. If you are a believing parent, take heart and be encouraged! God has your back. And more than that, He’s in you! We must guard against voices of discouragement. This is not the time for Christians to bury their heads in the sand and give up. More than ever, the call is urgent for those who believe to stand and fight for their families.

 

 

Toes

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It’s another one of those blustery Spring days. Outside, a powerful wind tosses the trees and turns the clouds a deep indigo that usually signals storms. This is my favorite kind of weather–when the clouds pile on top of one another and you can feel the extra charge in the air…something brewing. I’m inside, listening to the song “Toes” by Lights, a song I discovered two years ago today–the day my husband asked me to marry him.

April 20, 2015 I was in my parents’ house, listening to the same song, watching black and green clouds build outside my window and feeling anticipation in the air. I didn’t know yet that Tim was going to propose later that evening, but I knew that was the next step for us, and the words of the song seemed to fit perfectly with the season of unknowns and possibilities that defined the season ahead.

Oh you capture my attention

Carefully listening, don’t want to miss a thing, keeping my eyes on you. 

Oh, you capture my attention

I’m anticipating, I’m watching and waiting for you to make your move. 

Got me on my toes. 

As with lots of songs that really mean something to me, I find myself singing it to God, as a prayer, an anthem, one of those journal entries of my heart that He can see.

The more I think about it, my whole life could be summed up this way–on my toes–literally. Living every moment to its fullest, not wanting to miss anything that God was doing. When I was a child, my parents taught me that each day was a gift from God. I remember once telling my mom how blessed I was just to know that God had made me. The excitement of life’s possibilities were often overwhelming to me, sometimes keeping me up at night, often causing me to break into wild, silly dances where I would twirl or prance around the living room on my tiptoes for no reason. Life was just that exciting, and I just had to express my joy. I was charged. And God did that.

Now as an adult, I still feel like I’m on my toes, waiting on God with my questions in hand, but often with a very different attitude. There have been times where I’ve allowed the imminent struggles and speed bumps of life to slow me down, dampen my enthusiasm, and even cloud my view of God. Often, I find myself approaching God with an attitude that’s more cynical than hopeful.

I need to regain that childlike wonder. Because after all, God hasn’t changed. And when He reaches in and plucks those chords in my heart, I feel everything coming alive again and I remember, yes–this is what I was made for!

Why not live in that place always? Not ignoring the stresses of life, but responding to them in a way that demonstrates my expectant worship of God and my certainty that He is writing a wonderful story, painting a gorgeous picture, scripting a beautiful song.

John 7:38 says that when we know God and keep His Word, out of our hearts will flow rivers of living water–the Holy Spirit. We have everything we need to live in this place of hopeful anticipation.

God, ignite me. Let even the unknowns and unexpecteds of life turn to joy as I anticipate what you’re doing.

Oh, You capture my attention

I’m anticipating, I’m watching and waiting for You to make Your Move

Got me on my toes. 

 

–Song credit: “Toes” by artist Lights, album Siberia.–

 

What do you say about yourself?

One of the things that every Christian dreams about, and is called to in some capacity, is ministry. Almost from the very beginning of our faith journey, we start to wonder what God is calling us to and the big question in Christian circles today is “what is my purpose/ministry/calling/identity?” What is that special way that I am going to live out my faith and touch the world–or at least my section of the world?

In John 1, we meet a key minister, John the Baptist, or more accurately, John the Baptizer. He wasn’t a part of a denomination 😉

I believe that John is a key example of ministry, because he was the forerunner for Jesus Christ. What bigger ministry/calling than that? To pave the way for the Messiah Himself! Right in the midst of the famous verses describing Jesus and His Mission, John is introduced as the one who “bore witness about Him, and cried out, ‘This was He of whom I said, He who comes after me ranks before me, because He was before me!'” (John 1:15)

What an honor for John to be spoken about in Scripture right along with Jesus. However, it’s less his position and more his testimony that stands out to me.

In John 1, the religious teachers and leaders of that day approached John as he was baptizing, and they asked him a few questions that I believe are crucial for us to ask ourselves as we live lives of ministry. First they asked him who he was and if he was the Christ. After all, he was preaching repentance from sin, baptizing people, and gaining followers. He had spent time in the wilderness and from his youth people recognized that the hand of God was on him in a special way (Luke 1:66). However, John’s answer is very important. The Bible specifically says that he “confessed, and did not deny, but confessed,” that he was not the Christ (John 1:19-22). Furthermore, he continued to deny it as the leaders mentioned other famous spiritual leaders he could possibly be. I think it’s important to note that John was not tricked into self-promotion or false humility with his answer about his identity. He knew who he was and he didn’t need to embellish it or denigrate it. In our lives, it is crucial for our ministry to others that we know who we are. And this comes from spending time with God. When we know who we are, then we don’t need to dress up the truth of our identity or be afraid of it.

Next, the leaders said, “‘Who are you?…What do you say about yourself?'” (22).

This also is a very important moment. What comes out of our mouths about ourselves says a lot about what we really believe. Psalm 139 declares, “How precious to me are your thoughts, O God. How vast are the sum of them!” Are we agreeing with what God says about us or are we believing lies spun by the culture, the flesh, or the enemy? Any lie we have adopted, no matter how subtle, is dangerous to our identity and to our effectiveness in ministry. John’s answer to the Pharisees lets us see that his identity was wrapped up in God and that he believed what God said about him.

“He said, ‘I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as the prophet Isaiah said'” (John 1:23).

John had spent time with God, and in the Word of God, and his identity and calling were built on that foundation.

As children of God, we believers ought to be living in such a way that makes others take notice. But what will we say when they do? It’s been a thought-provoking question for me–what do I say about myself? How do I describe myself? In terms of my own opinions/gifts/talents/what others say about me? Or in terms of God’s thoughts about me?

How do we know God’s thoughts about us? We talk to Him. We listen. We get into the Word and let it get into us. Jesus is the Word and He was with God from the beginning. Anything and everything we need is in Him.

Because the Spirit of God dwelt within him, John was secure in his identity and also in his calling. He didn’t have to feel afraid of the Pharisees. He didn’t have to try to promote himself. He didn’t have to feel threatened when his disciples went and followed Jesus (John 1:35-37). He knew what he was on earth to do–point to Jesus, and when the Lamb of God showed up physically on the scene, faithful John did just that.

“Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (1:29).

May our lives point to the Lord. May our voices cry out that our God saves. May we find our identity and our pleasure and our greatest testimony in serving Him!

Untitled 2017

A New Year. Fresher than a new blanket of snow on the ground.

And just as austere, in some ways.

Winter after Christmas can sometimes feel grey. The new year can look like a white canvas, a blank page–full of potential, but as I stare at it, I can often feel empty, nervous. It’s something akin to writer’s block. Stomach flutters. Pressure to do things differently. To not mar the page with something unfocused, un-brilliant. Wishing all the scattered bits of last year don’t have to follow me into this one. Still an icy chill inside from the questions pricking my heart like sleet. The flurry of Christmas activity is like the rush of first snow–exciting, breathtaking, entirely welcome. But by the new year, joy can be reduced to just a shred glittering bravely, like a forgotten ornament clinging to the Christmas tree a week later.

Christmas lends beauty to the new year–Jesus Christ came down to give us Himself, to save us from sin and the empty, dark nothingness of life without Him. And it’s still just as true a week later. Rather than being empty, can’t we just be open?

There’s a vulnerability to the open hands, the face turned toward the sun that’s barely rising. But it’s better, braver than forgoing it all and wasting in worry, losing the opportunity to be there for sunrise.

Remember, God wasn’t ever afraid of beginnings:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing would have been or has been made. In Him was life, and that life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it!” -John 1:1-5

And out of our nothingness, God has birthed His greatest Miracles.

This new year, God is right where He has always been. Get close and hear Him. Let Him breathe on your empty canvas, your blank pages, your collection of questions. Spend time with the greatest Author, the most brilliant Composer, the supreme Creator/Redeemer of all time, who is making all things new.

It’s the sweetest sound, Father God breaking through the icy cobwebs of my own thoughts and embracing me in the morning quiet while snow gleams outside, ready for fresh footprints. “I’m with you” becomes not just an adage, but a powerful, true reality. He’s with me, in me, has set His Seal on me and invested His Name and Glory in me.

In all those who are His. We can come close and receive Him. He won’t leave us. He will stay and equip us Himself! And there’s nothing better. No better teacher, no path more exciting, no work more rewarding.

So ask Him for the new year. Remember and embrace His new year promises.

Begin again in me, Lord. Renew me. Make me freshly, powerfully, joyfully Yours.

In Jesus’ Name.

 

Thrill of Hope

Every Christmas, I’ve heard the verses from Isaiah quoted and sung:

“Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

This year, I decided to read the surrounding verses, Isaiah chapters 8-9. Once again, in the thick of the Old Testament, Scripture points to the Coming King, our source of Hope. The One we celebrate at Christmas. The One who came, and is coming again.

To the king who wouldn’t listen, the prophet said, “The Lord Himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call His Name Immanuel.”

God Himself made a way, even in the midst of humanity being too stubborn to obey Him, too proud to seek Him.  Alongside the famous Christmas Scriptures that ring with Hope, the verses of Isaiah 8 and 9 are very serious.

“Be broken, you peoples, be scattered…take counsel together, but it will come to nothing, speak a word, but it will not stand, for God is with us.”

Intense words, but how wonderful for those saved by Grace, called by God out of darkness into His wonderful Light! We can take hold of the Hope in these verses, knowing that no matter what happens in the world, no matter the chaos of the circumstances, God will never leave us.

8:11: “For the Lord spoke to me thus, with His Strong Hand upon me, and warned me not to walk in the way of this people, saying, ‘Do not call conspiracy what this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear…But the Lord of hosts, Him you shall regard as Holy. Let Him be your fear….

I will wait for the Lord and I will hope in Him.

There will be no gloom for her who was in anguish before.

The people who walked in darkness have seen a Great Light, and those who dwelt in deep darkness, on them Light has shined. For to us a Son is given, unto us a Child is born; and the government shall be upon His shoulders, and His Name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His Government and of Peace, there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his Kingdom to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.”

This is our Hope! This is the reason we celebrate. God has kept His Promises to Israel and has opened His Arms to the whole world. The call of Christmas is to lay aside our fears and rejoice in Hope. To refuse to fear the things the world fears, to be free of all the conspiracy the world gets caught up in. To live and delight in the fear of the Lord and trust that in Him we are receiving a Kingdom that cannot be shaken and a King who does not change like the shifting shadows of the world.

 

Merry Christmas! A thrill of Hope, the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!

 

Everyday Thanks

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In 2014, my life was changed and enriched by the magic of habitual thanksgiving.

That’s when I read Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts, as well as her One Thousand Gifts Devotional. In these books, Voskamp introduces a practice that revolutionized how she looked at life. Basically, she started counting…counting ways that God had been gracious to her, counting things she was thankful for, including everything from broad generalities to minute, personal details. Her goal was 1000 things, but the results were much more overwhelming. She kept on until she’d numbered thousands of gifts and she insists her perspective was changed into one of habitual joy, seeing God in everyday moments and gifts—even things she hadn’t seen the beauty in before.

I’m sure many of us have heard of or participated in different variations of this. When I was a child, my mom had something on the counter she called the Blessing Jar. Throughout the year, we would write down things we were thankful for, or answers to prayer, and put the pieces of paper in the jar. At Thanksgiving, we would paste some of them on the paper feathers of Tom the Thankful Turkey, a kid-sized cutout bird taped up on the wall of the kitchen. This was a great reminder for me as a child to cultivate thanksgiving throughout the whole year, not just on the day designated for giving thanks.

Of course, holidays shouldn’t be the only times we give thanks…any more than Sunday should be the only day we worship and fellowship with God. I’ve heard Sunday described as the “anniversary celebration” of the Relationship that exists all week. Thanksgiving is like that. It’s a holiday marked by giving thanks and noting our blessings, but cultivating a lifestyle of thanksgiving makes the celebration come alive all throughout the year.

Making note of things I was thankful for blended writing with a spiritual discipline and I loved the beautiful list that unfolded. Here is a snippet of the first 1000-gifts list that I recorded back in 2014:

–The smell of warm, wet wax from a desk candle

–The tiara of first snow in my hair

–Faces…the light of God’s creativity in eyes and smiles

–Mountain color palettes

–The first patter of rain

–Full family dinners

–The pleasure of finding just the right book

–Sprinklers catching sun midair

–How God’s Word stands for me

–Bird chorus in storms

 

As you can see, Voskamp encourages you to be specific and personal, and I relished the opportunity to turn every day into a treasure hunt–a search for blessings, great and small, hidden and obvious. My final journal entry at the end of the year went like this:

My name, Jubilee, means Trumpet Sounding, but so often I disconnect from it, hesitating, waiting for God to somehow prove Himself again. But I’ve been wrong to do that. He is Goodness itself! And in dark or light, joy or pain, He deserves praise. He doesn’t take. He gives. He gives Himself, the best gift ever. And His Life consumes, empowers, enlivens, invigorates, redeems. What more could I ask for? This journey of deliberate thanks has brought me into the land of blessing that I desired.

So on the eve of another Thanksgiving, be encouraged! Take a moment and really think about the little things. What is it about God that just blesses your socks off? What details of life do you really appreciate? If your life is feeling flat and stale right now, this is just the remedy, I promise! Ask God for open eyes and you’ll be amazed at everything that was there, all around you. All the Grace and Beauty and Mercy. There is so much real power waiting for us when we declare God’s Blessings and “forget not all His Benefits” (Psalm 103). Andrew Murray said: “Let us thank God heartily as often as we pray that we have His Spirit in us to teach us to pray. Thanksgiving will draw our hearts out to God and keep us engaged with Him; it will take our attention from ourselves and give the Spirit room in our hearts.”

 

Cultivating a lifestyle of thanks by making note of things we’re thankful for is truly a step heavenward. As the writer Joni Eareckson Tada puts it: “With each [gift or blessing] we experience on the earth, God leans over and whispers, ‘Just wait…one day you’ll bask in glory like this, and it will last forever’” (Tada, The God I Love, 283)!

If you’re interested in learning more about One Thousand Gifts, visit Ann Voskamp’s personal page.

http://www.aholyexperience.com/ann-voskamp/

 

Spoiler Alert…

It happened again. I sat in the movie theater, barely seeing the preview of the Olympics flash by me because I was so captivated by the song blasting through the speakers. I’m shocked at how the very words and warnings we need to hear as a culture are consistently flooding our iPods, theaters, and TVs, and we still don’t seem to get it.

Fellow Christians, have you heard the words of Katy Perry’s single “Rise”?

Listen…really, and consider what we’re up against.

“I won’t just survive/Oh you will see me thrive

Can’t write my story/I’m beyond the archetype.

I won’t just conform/no matter how you shake my core,

‘Cause my roots/they run deep.

Oh ye of so little faith./Don’t doubt it. Don’t doubt it.

Victory is in my veins./I know it. I know it.

And I will not negotiate./I’ll fight it. I’ll fight it.

I will transform.”

I’m stunned yet again at how God can shout His Truth, using the voice and talent of someone who doesn’t acknowledge Him (that I’m aware of).

This was back in the summer, obviously, since this song was used as a TV spot for the Olympics. But I don’t need to reiterate that we are embroiled in a battle that goes far deeper than the crunch of extreme sports. Whether we’d like to acknowledge it or not, we are faced with the eerie potential of a leader taking office who will likely detonate what has been simmering beneath the surface. We’ve seen it coming…or maybe we haven’t…a mounting opposition to the Gospel and those who choose to live it out loud.

But this isn’t a political rant as much as a cry for the sleeping children of freedom to awaken. And I don’t just mean Americans. I mean those of us who have been brought from death to life, who know the Freedom that comes from being filled with the Spirit of God–the Founder of Life and True Liberty. The words of Perry’s song give voice to what’s in my heart and what I’m hearing resound from believers across the nation.

This is not a political battle. It’s a spiritual one. We’ve known this all along: “We do not wrestle against flesh and blood but against…the powers of darkness in the heavenly places” Ephesians 6:12. But it’s more apparent now than I’ve ever seen it–all across the world. Darkness is becoming more and more manifest in broad daylight, stripping off its masks and pretensions, no longer hiding its design. But what happens when the sky darkens? The stars shine brighter.

“The path of the righteous is like the dawn, shining brighter and brighter until full day,” Proverbs 4:18.

Listen to the words of this chorus:

“When the fire’s at my feet again

And the vultures all start circling/they’re whispering,

‘You’re out of time’

But still I rise.

This is no mistake/no accident

When you think the final nail is in/think again

Don’t be surprised/I will still rise.”

This is not the time to negotiate. This is not a time for compromise. And this is certainly not a time for panic and defeat. This is the time to keep our windows open, like Daniel, and pray to the God of heaven, Who is not planning on abdicating His Throne simply because a “progressive” culture does not favor Him. I believe God has so much more for this country and we, His People, should not be ashamed. We should not be full of anger, fear, and strife. We have the opportunity to stand firm in our faith and resist the enemy, knowing that these same kinds of trials are happening to our brothers and sisters all over the world (1 Peter 5:9). This is a time for unity. This is a time to stand.

I don’t know what’s going to happen. I don’t know what the future holds for this country, for the world, for me, even. But I do know one thing–two, actually. God is still God and He will never quit or be deposed or voted out. He still has a Plan and He’s calling His People to wake up and shake off our slumber to be part of it. Otherwise, we will be scattered by circumstances and live in confusion and despair and disillusionment. That is not how we were meant to live.

I want to encourage everyone who believes–it’s not over. No matter the outcome of the elections. God is not going anywhere, and nor should we. Remember it’s not so much about who you are as it is about Whose you are! I don’t know who our next president will be, but I do know the One Who is Victorious: Jesus the Great I AM. My God. My King. And that is a Victory celebration I know I will get to take part in.

The Word of God is clear. “Today, when you hear His Voice, do not harden your hearts” (Hebrews 3:15).

“In the final days, flattery will corrupt those who abandon the promise, but those who know their God will be strong and take action (Daniel 11:32).

We serve a Mighty God and He is among us. He will never leave us or forsake us. That’s why I titled this post “Spoiler Alert.” Because we know the ending of all this. Jesus is the Author and Finisher of our Faith. If we keep our eyes on Him, we will always win.

“As for me, my prayer is to you, O Lord. At an acceptable time, O God, in the abundance of your steadfast Love, answer me in your saving faithfulness” (Psalm 69:13).

***VOTE THIS WEEK! AND PRAY! PRAY WITHOUT CEASING!!!***