Posted in Advent/Christmas, Personal Development

Finding Peace Anywhere and Everywhere

Peace(1)

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

Hope

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, Faith

The Wonders of God’s Love

Christmas-Advent-Love

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him (John 3:16-17, NIV).

Have you taken an opportunity for a leisurely drive around town to look at Christmas decorations? Among the images of Santa and elves, reindeer and snowmen, trees and gingerbread, every so often a nativity scene emerges. The nativity—the picture of an innocent Baby, God incarnate, Who arrived in humble obscurity to reveal His love to the world. The angels proclaimed His birth to the shepherds. The shepherds rushed to find God’s gift housed in a stable, lying in a manger. I imagine it looked rather plain to them, but nevertheless they rejoiced in the revelation of God’s love.

Love is really what Christmas is about. The miraculous message of Christmas is not that we loved God, but that He so perfectly loved us.

Unfortunately, we often project our own human experience with relationships on God. Our parents say they love us (and they probably do), but they hurt us. Our closest relationships with family and friends bring heartache. Perhaps our spouse has an affair, or our best friend betrays us. At the very least, we are disappointed by the decisions of others.

No matter how hard we try, people fail. Human love falls short. However, God does more than acts of love. He gives us Himself. He is love (1 John 4:8, 16).

Because God is love, everything He does is love. Whether or not we agree with it. Whether or not we understand it.

That is not to discount the presence of evil in the world, and that bad things happen to good people. But that’s a different conversation for another time.

There is such comfort and assurance in knowing that God is love. We do not worship a created being that whimsically and selfishly imposes His agenda on us, and then laughs at our expense. No! We run to Him and are safe. Our God is 100 percent love. He perfectly embodies the qualities of love as described in 1 Corinthians 13.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails (vv. 4-8).

These next few days before Christmas, let’s reflect on the love of God. Let’s drink deeply of the wonders of His love. God came to earth to bring us salvation at His own expense. God is love, and love is what He does.

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! (1 John 3:1)

PRAYER:
Lord of Love, thank You for sending the Christ Child as Your gift of love to the world. We have received You into our lives, and our hearts desire the warmth of Your love. Increase our longing for Christ our Savior. Help us grow in understanding Your love. Remind us that we are Your children, and that You lavish Your love—Your very self—on us. In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Posted in Advent/Christmas, Personal Development, Uncategorized

Reflections on Joy

advent-series-title-joy

[Jesus] went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:16-21).

Jesus’ statement struck a chord with the crowd. They knew he had read a portion of what today we call Isaiah 61, a passage that foretold the role of the coming Messiah. They were also familiar with what the passage continued to say after Jesus stopped reading.

[T]o comfort all who mourn,
 and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
   instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
   instead of mourning,and a garment of praise
   instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
   a planting of the LORD
   for the display of his splendor (Isaiah 61:3).

Three decades earlier, the angels had proclaimed Good News to the shepherds. “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord (Luke 2:10-11).

Joy! There was a common theme. The arrival of the Savior was accompanied by joy. Implicit in Jesus’ announcement of His mission was the presence of joy. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, Christians are established in joy.

And yet, why does joy seem so elusive, even for Christians? Perhaps the answer stems from the misunderstanding of what joy really is.

Happiness and joy are not synonymous. The outward expressions may be similar, but their origins are different.

Happiness is a state of well being in response to satisfying or pleasurable experiences. It is based on circumstances outside of our control. When situations change for the worse, we are no longer happy.

Joy is an inward contentment that is not dependent on situations or people. It originates from our faith in Christ, who is our everlasting source. Joy is constant throughout the extreme ups and downs of life. No matter what happens, we have joy in our eternal inheritance through Jesus.

Joy is a choice.

It was a choice during the birth of Christ. God’s kingdom had come to earth. The shepherds responded, while the rest of Bethlehem remained unaware, cramped in the miserable conditions of an overcrowded city.

It was a choice during the ministry of Christ. Some people opened their hearts to the healing, deliverance, and teachings of the Messiah. Others spurned the gifts of God.

It is a choice for us today. Will we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus and His eternal kingdom? Or will we remain stuck in the circumstances of the here and now? We thrive when we choose joy.

Joy to the world, the Lord has come!

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus (1 Thessalonians 5:16).

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near (Philippians 4:4-5).

PRAYER:
Heavenly Father, with the angels we rejoice in the birth of your Son. In this great mystery, we find the only joy that never fades – it is an eternal joy! Bring us under Your lordship. Teach us to walk in Your joy. May the world see Your glory through us, and worship Christ as their King. In His name. Amen.

Posted in Advent/Christmas, Faith, Servant Leadership

The God of Peace

For unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called
Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6).

The miracle of Christmas is that God came down to earth, a place designed for perfection, but, because of the fall, suffered under the weight of brokenness, sin, and death. The holy Child was born to walk among humanity, proclaiming the message of peace. Jesus Christ healed the sick, fed the hungry, eased suffering, delivered the oppressed, and calmed the storms. Ultimately the manger led to the cross and then His resurrection. The enemy of our souls was conquered by the Prince of Peace.

During this Week of Peace during Advent, let us reflect on God’s peace. It transcends every circumstance and permeates every relationship. The God of Peace gives us peace. As a result, we can enjoy…

Peace with God

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand (Romans 5:1-2).

Our relationship with God is secure. Through faith in Jesus, we fear no judgment. There are no obstacles or barriers. We are loved and protected by our heavenly Father, facing each day with assurance.

Peace with others

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace (Colossians 3:15).

If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone (Romans 12:18).

Because we have peace with God, we become ambassadors of peace. We follow the example of the Prince of Peace among fellow believers and non-believers alike. It is our calling to forgive as we have been forgiven, to help the needy even if they oppose us, and to overcome evil with good.

Peace with self

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:6-7).

I know too many people who are kind to others, but are cruel to themselves. They are burdened by self-condemnation or tormented by anxiety. We need to declare, “God’s grace extends to me just as much as to everyone else. I am NOT an exception to His promises of peace.” As we trust Jesus, He surrounds our hearts and minds with peace.

Peace be with you.

PRAYER:

“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace; where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy. Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood, as to understand, to be loved as to love; for it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying [to ourselves] that we are born to eternal life.” –St. Francis of Assisi

Posted in Advent/Christmas, Faith, Servant Leadership

Questions to Ask Yourself About Hope

advent-series-title-hope

It’s the weekend after Thanksgiving, and Christmas preparations are well underway. The Christmas tree is up and decorated. Most of the gifts on the gift list have been purchased, and the calendar is filled with festive activities. It’s a great feeling to make so much progress. But as I step back and admire my accomplishments, I am reminded of a more important element to consider. How is my heart? In particular, how well do I hold on to hope and pass it on the others?

For those of you celebrating Advent, this is the Week of Hope. It’s a time to reflect on the promise of the Savior, the Light of the World. Jesus Christ is the One who gives us hope. As servant leaders we are to be examples of hope to those around us, both on and off the clock. So then, how are we doing?

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us (Romans 5:1-5).

How do you rate when circumstances are bad as well as good?

  • How optimistic are you about the future?
  • How focused are you on people?
  • How content are you?
  • How often do you encourage others?
  • How determine are you to move forward?
  • How well do you accept change?
  • How strong is your sense of purpose?

Hope is vital to vision. You cannot have one without the other. God is the author of hope. He came to this earth as the Redeemer to give us hope and to grow hope in us. This Advent Season, trust Him to grow hope in you.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 15:13).

PRAYER:

Jesus Christ, Light of the World, I hope in You. Thank you for coming to this world to save me from my sins and to give me new life. Help me to keep Your kingdom in focus. Give me your hope and renew my vision. Empower me to make hope strong in my heart, as I remember that I stand by your grace and have your love. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Posted in Faith, Vision & Goal Setting

Our Story, God’s Story

I love the Christmas story, and I love the Christmas season. It is thrilling to think about the arrival of Emmanuel, the One conceived by the Holy Spirit who made His entrance into this world. It is inspiring to hear about the mighty angel chorus announcing the birth of the Savior to the shepherds in the fields.

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

And yet in the midst of the story, it is easy to forget that the miraculous took place against the back drop of the ordinary.

Mary was nine months pregnant when the decree for the census was given. Traveling at the end of pregnancy is an unpleasant experience for any woman. Pictures depict Mary as riding on a donkey, which would have been uncomfortable. However, she may have made the journey on foot. Either way, conditions were not ideal for the trip, and Mary was most likely miserable.
Bethlehem was crowded, and there were no rooms available for Joseph and Mary. They were able to find shelter in a stable when the time came for the Baby to be born, and the Savior of the World was laid in a manger—a feeding trough for animals.

Glory to God in the highest. Yes.

Peace on earth. Yes.

A miracle arrived…in a very ordinary setting.

We need to remember as we go about our daily lives to be aware of God at work. Pastor Randy Frazee, refers to two stories unfolding simultaneously—The Lower Story and The Upper Story.

The Lower Story deals with the here and now, what we see and experience in the moment. It’s ordinary life, as we take care of the details—our family, conflict at work, gridlock traffic, and racing the clock to get everyone to church on time. It’s our story.

“In the Upper Story we discover what God is up to; how he is weaving our story into his one divine love story. The Upper Story is God’s Story” (Randy Frazee, 2011).

The Upper Story is harder to see, but it’s just as real (and even more so) than the Lower Story.

Don’t get stuck in the Lower Story, even when things are going well. Keep your eyes open to the Upper Story.

“Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19, NIV).

Mary certainly didn’t understand the events as they occurred, but she trusted the Lord to fulfill His promises. She couldn’t see clearly how her Baby Boy would be the Messiah, but she trusted the Lord to accomplish His plans.

As you lead, as you make business decisions, as you live every day, ordinary life, in the good times and the bad times, keep your heart tuned to Jesus and the Upper Story. How is He revealing Himself? How can you represent Him in each situation?

God works all things for the good of those who love Him (the Lower Story) and are called according to His purposes (the Upper Story) (Romans 8:28). Ponder and treasure His faithfulness, as He lovingly weaves the miraculous upon the strands of the mundane.
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/thepangeablog/2011/10/05/the-lower-and-upper-story-author-randy-frazee/#ixzz3MbiVLTSw