The Necessity to Shine {when this world drives you crazy}

I was reading a friend’s status update a few days ago about one of her neighbors. She was in her alley (most Texas homes have back alleys) and out of nowhere she heard a man screaming at the top of his lungs:

“I hate this world!!!”

She couldn’t believe it and asked her friends to pray for this man. Obviously, bitterness and hatred were brewing in his heart toward someone or something.

I’ve had days where I’ve seen a darkness and insensitivity in this world from people who have no regard for one another. Co-workers who slander and devour each other, nasty people in checkout lines, off-the-wall thinking, critical and judgmental people, all around negativity from people across the board, and more.

I’ve had days where people have really gotten to me and the world seems like a depressing place to live. Sometimes random and unexpected situations have happened that have affected my attitude. I think to myself:

The only hope in this mean and crazy world is Jesus. What do people do who don’t have that hope? I would go crazy without it.

And it’s not too long after that I’m reminded of who I am in Christ and what I’ve been sent on this earth to do as his disciple. He reminds me that indeed, this world can be a dark, cold and lonely place but there is a solution to the darkness.

Jesus says, “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” – Matt. 5:14-16

My natural inclination is to run and hide from darkness and not confront it, especially if I have been hurt by someone else’s sin. But how will my light shine if I don’t forgive and genuinely love that person who’s so incredibly unlovable? How will they hear about God’s forgiveness and healing if I don’t tell them?

If “hurting people hurt people” as the saying goes, then there’s got to be a reason behind every offense. How will my light shine if I return evil for evil? It won’t. My light will shine when I choose to love and let God help me overcome the darkness.

When God’s light shines through us, people can’t help but notice something different. They can’t help but want to know what makes us love rather than hate. They want to know what gives us hope. Love is how people will come to know and understand that the Lord is real and active in the world today.

The man who screamed out in the alley is a picture of how many people feel. They harbor pain and they feel hopeless. These are the people God wants us to seek out and shine our light to. There is no plan B.

And no matter how dark the world continues to get, we are still the light of the world.

Do you find it difficult to shine and show love among the darkness? 

Why Your Failures Don’t Define You

Last week, I sat down on the couch to find something to watch with my three year old. The only station he would sit still to watch was the Alpine skiing championships.

As I watched each skier take off and head down the mountain, I was amazed by their speed, precision, and intensity to beat the clock no matter what.

Obviously, these skiers trained like crazy and had worked their way to the top. But what stood out to me the most was when one happened to fall or his foot would slip, he’d get back up and keep going. He would plan on making up for lost time further down the slope.

He didn’t let an unexpected fall interfere with his ultimate goal of crossing the finish line.

How true it is in our faith that we often let a stumbling block, failure or mistake keep us down on the ground. We focus so hard on the fact that we slipped, that we don’t shake the dust (or snow) off our shoes and move on. We forget what Scripture says:

And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. – Gal. 6:9

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. – James 1:12

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. – James 1:2-3

God knows that we fall at times. He knows we want to give up in the battle against sin. He knows that we doubt if he will carry us through the really tough and testing times in our faith.

Maybe you set some New Year’s resolutions and you’ve already failed at them. Maybe you set some goals spiritually, physically, or in your relationships and marriage but you’ve fallen short. And you didn’t plan on that happening exactly. And you’re down because it’s only January!

The good news is that the next step for you is to get back up and keep pressing on.

But trust me. You will be tempted to let the failure define you or to let it replay in your mind over and over. Don’t let it.

Christ defines you. He is your identity. He is your hope in the fight against sin. He is the one who gives you the grace and strength to make it through.

So whatever it is that you’re struggling with, don’t lose heart. Because Christ has already promised if you do not give up, you will reap a harvest in due time. And your persevering will be totally worth it.

Do you ever struggle with allowing some kind of slip to define you?

 

 

The Best News You’ll Hear All Christmas

Reflections from Luke 2:1-20

God became a man and lived on earth…

He came by the most humble means and was laid in a manger- a trough or box used to feed animals- very far from a crib in a royal palace. His father and mother, Joseph and Mary, sought a place for Mary to give birth but there was no room in the inn.

After Mary gave birth to the Savior, an angel of the Lord first appeared to shepherds. Humble, lower class citizens of the day and considered unclean- God chose them to be the first to hear the good news of this Savior.

Then that same angel and the heavenly hosts praised God saying,

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”

This baby Jesus would bring peace. The peace that mankind had been waiting for all along. His birth would usher in hope and life in the midst of chaos and brokenness.

Then the shepherds traveled to Bethlehem to actually see this Jesus. They saw him, Mary, and Joseph just as they were told. They spread the news to everyone. And everyone was amazed. But Mary hid and treasured all that was going on in her heart. I can only imagine her feelings and thoughts.

Then the shepherds went back to their fields, praising and glorifying God for all they had seen and heard. Finally, the Messiah had come. Not in the way that many expected, but he was here.

So what did this child’s birth mean for all mankind?

Did it mean good cheer, cozy Christmas songs, presents, Santa, snow, a nice manger display on the mantle, parties, charity, family gatherings, and good will toward men?

Those good things are only the outpouring of what this child’s birth means. His birth means so much more for us today.

His birth means that God stepped into history by sending his only son Jesus to earth. Jesus struggled and faced temptation like we do, yet he was sinless. He healed and saved those far from Him. His purpose in coming was to save us from our sins- all our offenses toward God. And they are numerous.

He would come to redeem, restore, renew…

So he did it just as he promised. He proved his love for us on a cross. He died the most shameful, disgusting and horrific death. He screamed. He cried. He agonized. He bled. He asked his father if there was anyway he could save him. But he knew it was God’s will for him to die because it was the only way to save the world.

So he willingly did.

But his death wasn’t the end. He rose again like he said he would. No man has ever raised himself back to life. Only God.

Over 500 witnesses saw his appearing and when his time on earth was finished, he ascended into heaven to be with his father.

Oh but the Christmas story doesn’t end there. Thank goodness. He is coming back for those who know, love, and have committed their life to him. He will one day, judge the living and the dead. And we need to be ready for his coming. We need to revere him and honor him.

Jesus is our hope this Christmas, no matter if we’re jobless, our spouse has been diagnosed with cancer, or we’ve lost a loved one. No matter what we’re going through, He is still our peace. And He is what our hearts are longing for.

Jesus is why we do all that we do in this joyful season. May our hearts be filled with gratitude for the greatest gift that has already been given to us in a manger many years ago.

Finding Hope in the Valley

This past year, eternity has been on my mind a lot. A close friend of our family was diagnosed with breast cancer, tragedy struck with the loss of an old friend, and I’ve experienced hardships in motherhood and marriage and my own sinful nature.

While I often ask God to remove trials from me and to keep me from pain, I have been molded and shaped the most in the valleys of life.

The valleys are where fruit is produced- not on the mountaintops. God gives me mountaintops for a season to encourage me, but the real work of my faith happen in the valleys- in the everyday, mundane details of life.

Trials and suffering remind me that this earth is not my home, even though sometimes I’d really like for it to be. Trials bring me to my knees in humility. They cause me to confess that God is all I have when life lets me down and when hardships are just too heavy.

At the time, I often hate going through the valleys, but God has used them in my life to keep my focus and perspective on Christ. And somehow on down the road I end up being thankful for them. I’m thankful that God grew me and that I’m not the same person I was.

At the end of the day, none of us are alone in the struggles of life, whatever they might be. Our hope is in Jesus alone and one day, our pain and tears will be no more. We have a great hope awaiting us!

He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things have passed away. – Revelation 21:4

The song You Hold Me Now has encouraged my faith in so many ways lately. I first heard it during worship at Watermark Church in Dallas and I fell in love with it. It is such a beautiful expression of Revelation 21:4. Here it is played at the gorgeous Hillsong Chapel in Australia.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y7vYqu_Y3VI]

Who is your God?

Recently I took John to Barnes & Noble to play with the Thomas Train table in the children’s section and on our way out after playing trains, I saw the book god is not Great by Christopher Hitchens as one of the featured sellers.

I haven’t read the book. I’m familiar with the author from Apologetics classes I took in seminary. But the title got my mind thinking and when I got home, I decided to write down who God really is…

My God is Great.

He is Creator. Redeemer. Healer.

He is the same, yesterday, today, and forever.

He is all-knowing, all-powerful, everywhere.

He understands suffering because He suffered on the cross.

He is Father to the fatherless and near to the brokenhearted.

He is Living Water to the prostitute.

He is full of compassion, mercy, and will judge sin.

He is a God of grace.

He forgives all sins.

He is a rock to those who take refuge in Him.

He formed the mountains. He knit me together in my mother’s womb.

He is able to keep us from failing.

He is to be feared.

He is mighty to save. He is King.

He is our song. He is our light. He is Life.

He proved His love by dying on the cross.

He is Savior of the World.

He is the way, the truth, and the life.

He is deliverer. He has washed us clean of our sins.

He searches the heart.

He is our hope. He makes all things new.

He turns ashes into beauty.

He is coming back for his own.

He loves you, and me, and Christopher Hitchens.

That is our God. And He is Great. And I have not even scratched the surface.


Video: Bethany Allen- Outrunning Breast Cancer

Just a few years ago one of my best friends was diagnosed with breast cancer. I’ll never forget the day she called me telling me the news. I remember sobbing with her on the phone and doing all I could to lift everything up in prayer with her. She told me on the phone that she was still going to run her marathon she’d been training for. It was only in a few weeks at Disney World.

I booked a flight and headed to Florida to surprise her. I’ll never forget her face! I watched her finish her race strong, and not only that but finish her last year of law school while enduring multiple surgeries, taking shots every day, and battling the pain of chemotherapy and radiation.

Last year, I asked Bethany if she would share her story for an upcoming series we were working on that dealt with prayer. The series is called The Sacred Echo with author and speaker Margaret Feinberg. When Bethany flew out for my baby shower last Septermber, in one tightly packed weekend, our team at Bluefish shot her story.

The link to Bethany’s story is here. I hope it encourages you in whatever trials you’re facing today and that ultimately you’ll put your hope, faith, and trust in God alone.

My Surrender Anniversary

Today is what I call my “surrender anniversary.” The story goes like this… as a young girl growing up in Charleston, South Carolina, my Mom brought my sister and I to church every Sunday (my Dad at that time didn’t want anything to do with “religion” at that time). So she was faithful in bringing us and when I was six years old, our pastor Jack came over to my house. His purpose was to tell me more about Jesus- that He died for me and that I was a sinner in need of a Savior. If I believed and accepted him, I would have eternal life and would be saved from a life spent in hell.

In that moment sitting in our living room, I remember it as clear as day and I accepted “Jesus into my heart” that day. I truly understood that God was Creator and that I had some sin issues (ie. I stole a few lollypops from Eckerds drug store). I needed him and I desperately wanted to go to Heaven. That day I truly believed.

BUT… still being so young and as I headed into my elementary and middle school years, I kept thinking I had to do “good” and that if I messed up, God would be mad at me. I didn’t quite get the relationship part. I’m pretty sure I rededicated my life about 10 times at youth camps and Sunday services.

High school came and I dabbled in a few things that were keeping me from having the life God wanted. There were sins blocking my path and I knew it. One summer as a sophomore, I took significant trips back to back (that my parents graciously gave to me) that were milestones in my life. One was to Frontier Ranch in Buena Vista Colorado with Young Life and one was to Panama City Beach, FL with my youth group. Both trips showed me so much about life and God. One night in Florida, a youth speaker at our conference spoke on “Surrender”. I had never heard the word and didn’t know much about it, but the words he was saying shot straight to the depths of my heart.

So I asked my pastor David and he explained it me like this, “It’s giving God everything in your life and letting him take full control. As if to say, I’m done. I surrender.” At that moment, I got it. I knew I didn’t have a surrendered life. Jesus was not LORD of my life (He was just there). But I wanted him to be. So that night I allowed God to take my mess and turn it into good. It’s not that I wasn’t saved or didn’t believe at age 6, it was just all a part of this process that God was doing. And it wasn’t like I was going to be perfect right away. God just knew what my heart’s desire was and He was going to help me in this idea of making him first in everything in my life.

That was June 16, 1998. The date is marked in pink in my Bible to this day. Every year, I try and take the day to reflect on what God did in my life and to see where I’ve come from. His grace changed my world and the lens in which I saw him. And today my love for him is wider, as I see all that I am not and all that He IS.

His grace extends to all of us, no matter where we’ve been. And his grace holds us for future things to come.

Thank you Lord, that you are an awesome God.

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