Posted in Advent/Christmas, Personal Development

Finding Peace Anywhere and Everywhere

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What image come to mind when you hear the word “peace”? I used to think peace was the absence of all conflict or trouble. I pictured a sailboat in the middle of a placid lake with little or no breeze. Today I visualize a completely different scene.

The biblical definition of peace has an element of the absence of trouble. However, it embraces other aspects, as well. Peace can mean “being in right relationship with another.” It also includes “completeness and safety in the midst of chaos.” It’s comforting to know that when situations and relationships are far from peaceful, I can still be at peace.

The Advent season is the perfect time to remember God’s gift of peace. The Prince of Peace arrived during a time of Roman oppression. In Bethlehem, while the little town was overcrowded by the great influx of people coming to register for the census, God visited in the form of a newborn. Born to the Virgin Mary and Joseph, His cries pierced the darkness. His divine life brought supernatural peace to human kind.

As followers of Christ, we enjoy peace on many levels.

We enjoy peace with God. The angel chorus announced it to the shepherds.

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2:13-14).

We do not struggle under the load of sin. We are no longer separated from God. We are brought near to Him and are in right relationship with the Lord.

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 5:1).

We enjoy peace with ourselves. Long after I knew I had peace with God, I continued to be in conflict with myself. I had a long list of “shoulds” and could never measure up. I extended kindness and grace to others, but was a brutal task master to myself. I constantly strove to excel in every area of my life. Thankfully the Lord, in His great love and patience, established His peace in my soul. Now I have serenity with my weaknesses and deficiencies. I know I am deeply loved by the Lord regardless of my performance. Perhaps you can relate with being hostile toward yourself. Rely on the Lord to help you be in right relationship with yourself.

We enjoy peace in our circumstances. We live in a fallen world with broken people. Life can be so hard some times. We experience disappointment, heartache, setback, and trauma. We encounter illness, injustice, violence, and death. Sometimes things don’t make sense. However, no matter what we may encounter in the moment, it does not have the power to shake the well being of our souls. The wonderful message of Christmas is that we are never alone. Emmanuel—God with us—has come. We have completeness and safety in the midst of chaos.

And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:7).

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

Today when I think of peace, it looks like the eye of a storm. The winds of destruction may rage, but there is a place of calm in the center. Christ is our Center. We can face anything and everything, because God’s peace is with us.

Jesus Christ came to this earth and provided peace. We have peace with God, peace with ourselves, and peace in the midst of our circumstances.

You will keep in perfect peace
all who trust in you,
all whose thoughts are fixed on you! (Isaiah 26:3, NLT)

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, thank You for being the Prince of Peace. Teach me to trust You and to walk in Your perfect peace. This holiday season, may I reflect on Your great gift of peace and learn to always keep You at the center of my life. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Graphic designed by Jordanne Babcock

 

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Posted in Advent/Christmas

The Season of Hope

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As a mom, I am often amazed at my love for my kids. They are all adults. Yet, when they struggle, a protective instinct rises up and this mama bear wants to fight any and every thing that causes them pain. Once the initial response passes, I carry concern and sorrow for them close to my heart. The weight stays with me until there is closure to the situation. I take it harder when something happens to my children or grandchildren than when it happens to myself.

I long for the days when I could hold my son or daughter, tend to an “owie,” say a prayer, and kiss it better. Their challenges are far more complex. They face the consequences of their own choices; they bear the results of other people’s actions. Sometimes they find themselves in the middle of a situation that is entirely outside of their control, simply because they are in the wrong place at the wrong moment. Discouragement, despair, rejection, injustice threaten to unravel their well-being. The darkness tries to settle in the valley of my soul.

The light of hope is my saving grace. I know how to hold onto hope for myself. Now I am learning to hold onto hope on behalf of my family.

The Advent season is a season of hope. Four hundred years before Christ made His entrance into this world, the prophet Malachi spoke to God’s people.

“Look! I am sending my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. Then the Lord you are seeking will suddenly come to his Temple. The messenger of the covenant, whom you look for so eagerly, is surely coming,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies (Malachi 3:1, NLT).

This inspirational message was followed by 400 years of silence, a period in which there were no further prophetic words recorded. Four hundred years! I find it unbearable to go four days when it seems that the Lord is silent in my life.

That’s when I turn to God’s Word and find hope.

That’s what God’s people did during the 400 years of silence. They recited Malachi and other prophets, encouraging each other that one day a messenger and the Messiah would come. In the midst of some very dark days of governmental oppression, persecution, and poverty, they encouraged each other with God’s promises.

Then in the fullness of time, the angel Gabriel announced the birth of John the Baptist to Zechariah and Elizabeth, a couple who were well past their child-bearing years. Three months later, the angel announced the birth of the Savior of the World to Mary, a devout teenager who was a virgin. The Lord overcame huge obstacles and performed miracles to bring forth His promises. He demonstrated that “no word from God will never fail” (Luke 1:37, NIV). Or, as stated in the KJV version, “with God nothing shall be impossible.”

Hope is founded on an immovable confidence in the Lord. No matter how difficult life gets for us or the people we care about, there is always hope. God is faithful. We can trust Him to direct steps and use lives for His good purposes. His hope is a firm and secure anchor for our souls (Hebrews 6:19a).

We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love (Romans 5:3-5, NLT).

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, You are the God of hope. Help me when I get overwhelmed in the moment by circumstances. During this season of Advent, help me to remember that Your Word will never fail and that nothing is impossible with You. Let me trust in You and find lasting hope in You. Lord, You are good and Your steadfast love endures forever. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

~Graphic designed by Jordanne Babcock

Posted in Advent/Christmas, Servant Leadership, Vision & Goal Setting

Telescopic Vision and the Wise Men

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When we think of the Christmas story, some important characters come to mind. First and foremost is the Christ Child with His mother Mary and Joseph. There are the angels and shepherds. Almost every nativity scene includes the magi, wise men from the East who travel to find the Holy Babe in order to worship Him. Historically the wise men arrived at His residence some time between His dedication at the temple (eight days old) and before He turned two years of age. It is entirely possible that Jesus Christ was walking and talking when the wise men presented Him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Even though the wise men aren’t technically a part of the birth of Christ, their dedication to find and worship Him is remembered and celebrated. January 6th is designated as Epiphany—the Day of the Wise Men—and marks the end of the Christmas holiday.

The magi were men of vision. Men of great learning, by studying the stars they had discovered that the King of the Jews was born. They made it their mission to seek Him. During the same time, Israel was in upheaval because of the census. Everyone was required to go to their birthplace to register. The typical person wasn’t concerned with looking at the sky and pondering the meaning of the arrival of a new star. Their focus was to deal with the inconvenience of Caesar’s decree and to get through the day.

Rev. Ken Williamson describes the contrast in approaches as telescopic vision versus microscopic vision.

Like the wise men of old, telescopic vision looks beyond the here and now. It focuses on the possibilities and recognizes God’s presence in the future as it unfolds. It is full of faith and hope, relying on the Lord to lead the way.

Microscopic vision looks at the infinitesimal details of the current situation and gets weighed down. It is realistic and practical, but is also easily distracted by the stressors of the present.

It would be ideal to combine the best of both visions. Unfortunately, we tend to favor one approach over the other. There is definitely a time and place to tend to the affairs of today, but we must guard against operating in survival mode. However, in order to thrive as leaders, we must develop the habit of telescopic vision.

We gaze at the horizon, trusting in God’s goodness and unlimited resources. We walk forward faithfully, confident in God’s incredible plans, and invite others to join us.

Tradition says that after the wise men worshiped Jesus Christ, they returned to their homes and shared the good news of His birth. They continued to practice telescopic vision and looked forward to salvation. Eventually they were baptized by the Apostle Thomas.

Be encouraged by the wise men’s pursuit of Jesus Christ this Christmas season. With eyes of faith, pursue God’s love and will for you, your family, and other places of influence.

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route (Matthew 2:1-2, 9-12).

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, thank You for the example of the wise men. Thank You for their vision to find and worship Jesus. Thank You for their obedience to not go back to Herod and return to their home by another way. Help me to follow You with telescopic vision, being full of hope and trust as You lead the way. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Posted in Advent/Christmas, Servant Leadership

The High Road of Humility

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Have you seen the commercial for the Microsoft tablet featuring one of the executive producers for Marvel films? This woman makes incredible pictures enjoyed by people all around the world, and she is passionate about it. Her secret to success? She says she works hard—14 hours a day, seven days a week, and she has kept that schedule for decades. She jokes that her only super-power is lack of sleep.

It’s funny. Every time I see the ad, it does not make me want to run out and buy a Surface. Instead, I find myself yearning for her super-power. Just think how much I could accomplish if I didn’t require much sleep. Instead of taking the time to pamper my weak composition with the rest I desperately need, I could blaze a trail of glory for the Kingdom of God. I imagine all the people who could be reached, all the lives that would be touched by the presence of Jesus and transformed by His Spirit. I want to do great things for the Lord, and if I just had more hours I could do even more.

All the dreaming about possibilities quite honestly makes me exhausted.

Didn’t Jesus say, “If you want to be great in God’s kingdom, learn to be the servant of all”? (Actually it was a song paraphrasing Matthew 20:26.)

Doesn’t Jesus care more about my heart attitude than my faulty measurement of productivity? Blazing a trail of glory as I burn the midnight oil doesn’t impress Him. He examines the motivations of my soul.

The Scriptures encourage us to follow Jesus Christ’s example and walk in humility.

You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.

Though he was God,
he did not think of equality with God
as something to cling to.

Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
he took the humble position of a slave
and was born as a human being (Philippians 2:5-7).

In fact, that is the crux of the Christmas story. The Son of God willingly left the splendor and perfection of heaven, and humbled Himself to be clothed in human flesh. He chose the high road of humility as the way to bring the gift of salvation to the world.

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Rather than appearing as a fully developed man, he came as a tiny baby, helpless and dependent on his parents for survival. He was not born to royalty; He chose a poor family. The Savior’s arrival was heralded by angels, yet he was housed in a stable and had an animal’s feeding trough for a bed.

That, my friend, is humility. None of it accidental; all of it planned.

But Jesus went even further.

When he appeared in human form,

he humbled himself in obedience to God
and died a criminal’s death on a cross (Philippians 2:8).

From the beginning, the Messiah’s mission was to die for us. He laid down His life in shame and agony to pave the way for us to enjoy a relationship with our Heavenly Father and to look forward to a heavenly home. All of this was accomplished because He chose the high road of humility.

More than the super-power of lack of sleep, I desperately need the super-power of humility. In order to truly touch others with God’s love, I must learn to chose over and over again the high road of humility.

Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor
and gave him the name above all other names,

that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:9-11).

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, I acknowledge that I want to do great things for You. Sometimes I think I need to be great in order to do great things. Teach me what it means to humble myself in obedience to You. Help me to remember that following Christ’s example of humility is the most powerful way I can make a difference in this world. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Posted in Advent/Christmas, Faith

You Have Been Chosen!

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When my daughter, Jessi, was five years old she made a deal. Actually it was a bribe from us (her parents) borne out of desperation, and she accepted. For months, Jessi had been asking for a puppy. I wanted nothing to do with one more creature to take care of. I was already on overload with four young children ages five and under. But perhaps if she could prove she was responsible enough to take care of a puppy, we would consider it. What would be the proof? Jessi would have to do her chores every day for a month without being reminded.

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The days and weeks passed. To my surprise and consternation, my little five year old faithfully did her chores without any reminders, but perhaps a few hints. As the goal line grew closer, I wondered, Why didn’t I set a longer time period…like a year? Jessi was triumphant and the pursuit to find just the right dog began.

We weren’t going to the local pound and pick out the first dog that won over Jessi’s heart (although going to the pound or Humane Society is a great way to get a pet). Our daughter’s puppy would be deliberately and specifically chosen.

Jessi eagerly learned about the different breeds of dogs. She and Dad (also a dog lover and completely in her corner) decided on a Springer Spaniel. It couldn’t be just any Springer Spaniel. Dad insisted that our dog be a papered pure bred. The two of them scoured the ads regularly and finally discovered papered pure bred Springer Spaniel puppies on Whidbey Island, a mere three hour journey from our home. We loaded the kids into the mini-van to claim the newest member of the family.

There were six adorable puppies in the litter. Fortunately Jessi already knew she wanted a girl, which narrowed it down to two. She studied and interacted with the females until she made up her mind. Finally she announced, “This is the one I want.” Jessi affectionately scooped up her prized puppy and held her close. On the late night trek home, she named her Brownie.

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Whenever I read in the Bible about being chosen, Jessi and Brownie rush to the front of my memories.

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ. Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure (Ephesians 1:3-5, NLT).

You have been chosen! Just as my daughter spent great time and attention in selecting her beloved puppy, Your Heavenly Father’s choice of you was not accidental or haphazard. His intentionality goes so far beyond my endearing human illustration. He had you in mind before you were born. Even with your mistakes, purposeful poor choices, pain and brokenness, or other things you feel disqualify you, He chose you. His choice was based on love for you, and seeing who you are through Him. Adopting you into His family gave the Lord great pleasure.

As a Christ follower, you probably already know that you have been chosen in a theological sense. However, is it a truth deeply embedded in the core of your being, the steadfast anchor in the midst of the capricious waves of life?

When I know that I know that I know I have been chosen as a beloved child of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, there is no earthly circumstance that can shake me. Absolutely nothing can separate me from His unfailing love. I can thrive because I am rooted and established in Christ’s perfect love. I am chosen!

During the Christmas season, as we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ—God’s gift of love to the world—remember that He is also God’s gift of love to you, because you have been chosen.

They stumble because they do not obey God’s word, and so they meet the fate that was planned for them.

But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light (2 Peter 2:8b-9).

Prayer:
Heavenly Father, thank You for loving me and choosing me. May I not forget how precious Your thoughts are toward me. You have poured out immeasurable grace on my life. As one who has been deliberately and specifically chosen, may I reach out to others with Your amazing love and serve them with compassion. May I share the Good News with others that they have been chosen by You. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Posted in Advent/Christmas, Faith

May We Never Lose Our Wonder

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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).

Thanksgiving is over, and the Christmas season is officially upon us. Carols are playing; people are rushing around to buy the perfect gifts for their loved ones; schedules are filled with parties and social events. It truly is an exciting time of the year.

In the midst of the festive hustle and bustle, I am challenged to remember the reason for the busy-ness in the first place. Christmas is all about the Christ Child coming to the earth to bring salvation to mankind as foretold centuries before. Angels fill the back drop of the Christmas narrative. An angel visits the Virgin Mary. Joseph has a dream where an angel encourages him not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife. A choir of angels proclaim the birth of the newborn King to the shepherds. It is a season of wonder.

The problem is I have become too familiar with the story. The miracles have become mundane; the extraordinary has become ordinary. Somehow I have put the Savior of the world in a box and placed Him under the tree. And sadly my heart is no longer stirred.

Can you relate to this, my friend? The condition goes beyond the month of December. Losing our sense of wonder for the God of the Universe can plague us throughout the year.

First we lose our sense of wonder, and then we lose our sense of hope.

What can we do to regain our amazement for the Lord?

We must replace apathy with a passion for our Savior. It is not enough to go through the motions of faith. We must engage our hearts and minds with openness and curiosity. No matter how much we think we know about Jesus, we must cultivate an eagerness to learn and discover more.

In the case of the Christmas story, put yourself in the place of the characters. Imagine what they personally thought, felt, and experienced. Allow the story to become alive in your soul.

When it comes to knowing God, ask the Holy Spirit to teach you. Study the Scriptures, trusting the Lord to show you more about Himself. Don’t be complacent about your relationship with Jesus. Expect Him to reveal Himself to you.

My grandson, Rhett, is one year old. The last time he visited me, he started a new game. He motioned for me to pick him up. As I carried him around the house, he would point wide-eyed to items for me to name. At first they were things he hadn’t seen before. After several times of this activity, we returned to the same objects. Rhett never grew tired, and even though he had seen some of the items again and again, his eyes continued to be wide and he studied them with renewed interest.

Oh, that we would be more like Rhett! Allow our Heavenly Father to carry us along, with wide-eyed wonder, learning more about Himself and His glorious Kingdom.

As wonder is restored, hope springs forward in our lives. Faith comes alive. The impossible looks possible. We can see light in the darkest situation.

May we never lose our wonder. Let us continue to grow in amazement of our truly awesome God.

Many, LORD my God, are the wonders you have done, the things you planned for us. None can compare with you; were I to speak and tell of your deeds, they would be too many to declare (Psalm 40:5).

I will give thanks to you, Lord, with all my heart;
I will tell of all your wonderful deeds.
I will be glad and rejoice in you;
I will sing the praises of your name, O Most High (Psalm 9:1-2).

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, may I never lose the wonder of who You are. Help me to grow in childlike faith. I want to see light in the darkness, and embrace hope instead of fear. During this Christmas season, increase my amazement in You. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Posted in Advent/Christmas, Personal Development, Servant Leadership

Say Goodbye to the Post-Holiday Blues

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Well, the holidays are almost over. Weeks of preparation and anticipation have come to a close. This year I started shopping for Christmas gifts earlier than ever. And for the first time, the days leading up to the holidays were actually enjoyable and relatively stress free. However, with so much time and energy given to celebration, I find that the days after the holidays can be difficult. For me, it’s similar to the adrenaline crash after delivering a message at an event or performing on stage. There is such a let down, even if the production was amazing.

So, as I put away the decorations and gear up for regular life again, I recognize my vulnerability to the post-holiday blues. Rather than ignore them or try to power through, I acknowledge that physical and emotional let down are natural responses, and I am gentle with myself for experiencing them. In addition, I place my attention on three key areas.

  1. It’s still about Jesus. The Christmas story is miraculous and inspiring. There is awe in remembering that God loved the world so much that He left the glory of heaven and arrived as a baby. Fully human and fully divine, He came to fulfill His mission as our Savior. Christmas was just the beginning and led to Easter. Christmas is more than history; it is also present. Jesus came as Emmanuel—God with us. Today in every season and situation, He is still God with us. Every single day is about Jesus. There is power and assurance when I focus on this truth.
  2. Be kind to yourself. For most of us, the holidays are a time when healthy eating and exercise are put on hold, or at least put on the back burner. Celebration is good, but too much of a good thing takes a toll on our bodies. Post-holiday blues come on the heels of poor self care. Nutrition, physical activity, and adequate rest are not optional. Being kind to myself means getting back on track with proper diet, exercise, and rest in order to strengthen my well being.
  3. Pay attention to others. When we are depressed, we lose sight of others. Serving others lifts our attention from our own feelings. It is difficult to wallow in the blues when we notice others and seek ways to make a difference in their lives. It is more blessed to give than to receive. I reap the benefits when I love my neighbors as I love myself.

Don’t let the post-holiday blues get you down. As you focus on Jesus, and then yourself and others, you will chase the blues away. Say hello to the New Year with a sense of purpose and joy.

Scriptures:

Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God (Psalm 42:11).

You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Galatians 5:13-14).

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-24).

Prayer:
Heavenly Father, thank You for this holiday season. I believe that You are Emmanuel, that Your Holy Spirit lives in me. Empower me to live for You, to glorify You with the way I live this life. Help me to care for myself. Help me to love and serve others. As I walk with You, may I say goodbye to the post-holiday blues. In Jesus’ name. Amen.