On Shattered Plans…

She was planning a wedding, dreaming about the future with her soon-to-be husband.
He owned his own business and made enough money to provide for them in a modest way.
She dreamt of her cozy little house, in the same village where she grew up, near her relatives.
And, one day, some little boys and girls running around with their father’s eyes and her smile.

He was dreaming, too.
Or really, planning was a better word.
He had secured his bride, a godly woman with a heart of gold.
And he looked forward to the days when he could teach his sons all that his father had taught him about his trade.
He could provide a good life for his family.
They would never be rich.
But it was enough.

Simple lives.
In a simple village.
With simple, reasonable expectations.

Until all that was shattered.
The angel’s words twisted Mary’s dreams in a completely different direction.
He called her “highly favored”.
And said that she would be the mother of a boy but that God would be his father.
Not Joseph.

And then the twisting went a little deeper when Joseph did not believe her.
He truly believed she had been unfaithful to him.
And so he decided to break their engagement quietly.
Until the angel dispelled his disbelief in his bride’s fidelity and he married her instead.

But then a few months later, it went deeper still.
The baby would not be born in their cozy little home in Nazareth.
All of Joseph’s preparations for his new bride were for naught.
Instead, the house got closed up tight and the journey to Bethlehem began.
And even there, in Bethlehem, he could not provide for his bride like a husband should.
Circumstances conspired against him.
And they ended up in a stable.
Dreams of every sort shattered.

And even the dream of his son learning to be a carpenter in his father’s shop was postponed.
Because they had to flee to Egypt to escape the wrath of a crazy king.
They spoke no Egyptian.
They had no one there to welcome them.
They ran for their lives with only the provision God had sent – gold, frankincense and myrrh.
Strange gifts from strange men.
But God’s provision all the same.

The Christmas story – the true tale of the birth of the Savior – reads so simply and so quickly in the opening pages of Luke and Matthew.
But if you really think about it – if you place yourself in the shoes of any one of the main cast of characters – it is a roller coaster ride of twists and turns in their lives.

But here is what I love.
When Gabriel tells Mary that she is to be the mother of the son of God she simply says, “I am God’s servant. He can do with me as He wills.”
When Joseph is assured by an angel that Mary is telling the truth, he has the same response. He got up, married her and accepted all that God had for them.
And even as they walked in obedience, the road kept twisting before them.
But still they were faithful.
Even rejoicing that God had chosen them.
There is no record of complaint from either of them.
No balking at the ways their lives had been interrupted.
No railing at God when they suddenly have to flee to Egypt.

Perhaps those emotions and thoughts were there.
I look forward to talking to them about all this when I meet them in heaven.
But the record simply shows a consistent obedience.
Even when the circumstances were far, far from ideal.
They walked with God.
The obeyed Him.
And they let Him deal with the consequences.

Dreams that don’t turn out the way we planned.
And even plans that get blown up in our faces.
How do we deal with them?
Do we simply trust and obey?
Do we wait expectantly for all that God is going to accomplish?
Do we trust that He is completely good and that everything He does is right?

Or do we wrestle for control, seeking to change things?
Do we rail at God, complaining about how things should have been?
Do we let disappointment turn to anger, and then allow anger to simmer into bitterness?

I am glad Mary and Joseph did not do that.
They let God write the script.
They trusted His plan.
Depended fully on Him.
And, because they did, they got to experience amazing things.
Another miraculous birth in the family when old Elizabeth gave birth to cousin John.
And then shepherds telling of angel song.
A star shining just for them.
Confirmation by both a prophet and a prophetess that they held the Messiah in their arms.
God’s provision in both simple ways and grand ones.
Visitors from the East.
And God showing up in a thousand ways that are unrecorded in Scripture but had to have happened for their story to be successful.

Because eventually they did end up back in Nazareth.
And eventually they had those little boys and a girl filling the house with laughter and noise.
And eventually, Mary experienced her oldest boy dying for her sin – and then rising again, victorious over death and hell.

All because they didn’t let the shattering of expectations shatter them.
Instead they trusted God.
And the shattering shaped their story in glorious ways.
Will you let the shattering shape yours as well?
Will you let it drive you to the Everlasting Arms?
Or will you let disappointment, bitterness and anger drive you away?

Because the shattering will come. Jesus guaranteed that in this world we will have trials and troubles.
So the shattering will come.
Be He also promised that He has overcome the world.
So, when the shattering comes, what will your response be?
My prayer for us both is that we will let it drive us to Him – and that, as a result, we will see miraculous things with our own eyes this Christmas season and beyond.

On Alexander the Great, Ancient Tyre, and a Victorious Life…

On Alexander the Great, Ancient Tyre and a Victorious Life…

The people thought they were safe in their island fortress.
And for a long, long time they were.

They had built one city in two locations on the sparkling Mediterranean Sea – a section on the mainland and one on an island offshore.

The island was protected by strong winds and waves on one side, making a naval approach nearly impossible. And it had reefs on the other side that served as natural protection.

So, when Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon invaded the mainland city, the people simply moved to the island. It was a walled city surrounded by impassable natural defenses. And, just as Ezekiel prophesied, Nebuchadnezzar conquered the mainland city of Tyre. However, he was thwarted in getting to the island and eventually gave up on that piece of real estate.

After that, the people felt even more secure. And they would have been, except for the fact that they angered Alexander the Great. He asked to come to the island to worship in the temple of their god. They said, “Nope!” and he said, “Are you kidding me?!?”

He already possessed “Old Tyre” – the mainland city – and now his army completely destroyed it, tearing down the walls, razing the buildings, even scraping the dust from the ground. And what did they do with all that debris? They threw it on top of the reefs protecting the island – and they kept doing that until they had built a land bridge all the way across to the “protected”, “impenetrable” island fortress. And Tyre – both “Old” and “New” fell, just as Ezekiel had predicted. That land bridge remains to this day, built up by blowing and drifting sands off the coast of Lebanon.

So, why the history lesson?

Because Tyre’s defeat is replayed in so many lives today.

There you are, bebopping through life, dancing along.
You feel safe, protected, secure in your little island, your heart.
After all, you know Jesus as your Savior.
And, while life isn’t perfect, you rest secure in the knowledge that He has conquered death and the grave. He is at work in your life, the glue that holds you together. You have His Word. You catch glimpses of His hand at work in your life. You are learning. Growing. Changing gradually from the inside-out.

Life is good.

Until suddenly, it isn’t.

A storm comes.

Sometimes these storms self-made, the consequences of decisions. Because, while Jesus paid the ultimately penalty for sin on the cross, there are always, always consequences of sinful decisions.

Sometimes the storms are overt attacks from the enemy, an obvious play of his hand to get you off track, off balance, and off task.

And sometimes storms are simply the fallout of living in a fallen world. Cancer. Birth defects. Or someone else’s depravity bumping into your peaceful island home.

But frankly, the storms are not the biggest threat you face.
They can be devastating.
But they are unmistakably storms.
So you deal with them.
You shore up your defenses and batten down the hatches.
You cry out for help and cling to the Rock of Ages until the storm passes.

But the more subtle danger comes from the debris that you allow in the water of your life.
Hidden sin.
A bad attitude.
A subtle idolatry that shifts your focus off of God and onto something else.
A watering down of His Word that makes your chosen sin acceptable.
Or simply an ongoing disobedience about something you know He has called you to do.

These things don’t gallop in as storms.
They are more subtle.
But if you allow them to build, you will quickly have a land bridge that opens you up to further attack, stronger assaults, battering rams of temptation.

It’s so easy, too!
That is why the writer of Hebrews says, “Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble you, corrupting many”. (Hebrews 12) And Moses warned the Israelites to not allow “a root [of idolatry] bearing poisonous fruit and wormwood (bitterness)”. (Deuteronomy 29)

Poisonous roots.
Stealthily planted.
And needing to be ruthlessly pulled.
Because if you don’t, they tend to grow, strengthening and piling up much like Alexander’s land bridge.

So what is the antidote?
How do you avoid these roots, these land bridges that allow attack?

Three ways come to mind:

1. Keep short accounts with God. I don’t always see the subtle bitterness of spirit that has landed in my heart or the idolatry that is creeping in. But He does. Ask Him often to show you where you have not forgiven, where you are allowing an idol to take over, where your attitude stinks. He will. And He is “faithful and just to forgive our sin and cleanse us of all unrighteousness” when we confess these things to Him. (I John 1:9)

2. Keep short accounts with people. Either overlook the offense, truly letting it go. Or, if you cannot do that, sit down and talk with them. Hash it out. Fight for unity. Love as Jesus loved. Difficult, but oh, so worth it. You are not responsible for the land bridges of their hearts – but you are most definitely in charge of seeing that yours is not successfully built!

3. And last, cultivate gratitude. It is very, very difficult for bitterness and gratefulness to dwell in the same place. When you feel your attitude tanking, think of what you can give thanks for in that situation. For that person. For this season of life. Write it down. Text it to a friend. Keep a gratitude journal. Tell God. But choose thankfulness. It is a bridge-busting, root-of-bitterness-yanking, massively powerful weapon in your arsenal. Don’t believe me? Try it – you’ll see.

Please, for your sake, bust up those land bridges, big or small. Yank those roots. Confess your sin. Love others enough to sit down and talk. Obey quickly. And watch God get the glory as you “give thanks in all things”. Thwart the enemy at his game. You’ll see the Kingdom of God thrive in your heart – and spill over to bless many others as well!

On Walking By Faith…

“We walk by faith, not by sight.”

Paul wrote these words to the church in Corinth.
I’ve been chewing on them recently.
Especially when I have been praying for some seemingly impossible situations.
In my relationships.
In my church.
And in this world.
So many messes!
So much to navigate.
Leading me to wonder, what does it really mean to “walk by faith”?

Of course, the first answer is the simplest one. The author of Hebrews said it this way:
“But without faith it is impossible to [walk with God and] please Him, for whoever comes [near] to God must [necessarily] believe that God exists and that He rewards those who [earnestly and diligently] seek Him.” (Hebrews 11:6, AMP)

Walking by faith means believing that God is who He says He is.
Taking His Word to be His Word.
Not shaping Him into who I want Him to be or even who I think I need Him to be.
But believing that He exists and that He is God.
And as God, He gets to set the rules.
The how-tos.
The stay-away-froms.
The “I-will-bless-you-ifs”.
He gets to decide all of those – not me.

And, of course, I cannot know Him for Who He really is without believing that His Words about Himself are true.
Something to be studied.
Chewed on.
And lived.
God as revealed in the inerrant Scriptures.

That is the first layer of what it means to walk by faith instead of sight.

But as I was thinking through some relational things the other day, I said to God, “Why is it “we walk by faith”? Why not “we walk by grace”? Or “we walk by love”?”

And it hit me.
It IS walking by faith that allows me to walk by grace. By love. In power. In forgiveness. In all the things I need for life and godliness.
Both for myself and for others.

I can walk in these things first concerning myself because I know – I confidently believe by faith – that the following is Truth:
God loves me.
Not because I am a good person. I am not.
Not because of anything I do.
Or how I look.
How I dress.
Or even think.
None of that makes God love me.
He simply chooses to love me.
And nothing I have done or will do will change His mind.

He hates my sin, not just because He is holy and perfect Himself, but because He sees the damage it does to me.
To others.
To this world.

But He loves me.
And He has forgiven me
I stand forgiven.
Made perfect in His sight.
Because He sees me both now, in process, and then, when I stand complete before Him.
And when He sees me, He also sees my record.
Every sin.
Every mistake.
Every failure.
And across the record, the word “Forgiven”.
By the blood of Jesus.
By Him taking my punishment on Himself on the cross.
I am free.
I am forgiven.
I am in right standing with God.

And therefore, I can extend all those powerful things to myself.
Forgetting what is behind, I press on.
Shaking off everything that makes me stumble, I run the race with my eyes fixed on Jesus.
And because He has been so incredibly gracious to me, I walk through this life striving to keep my life free from sin.
But knowing that when I mess up – and I will mess up – His love never changes.
His grace is still there.
And I am still beloved.

So I walk by grace, power, forgiveness, love – and all those other things – concerning myself.
Which means that I can walk by grace – and all those other things – towards you.
I have been forgiven much. I can forgive much.
I am dearly loved. It is possible to love you the same way.
I have the freeing knowledge that this life is not all there is, that this is just the title page to the book.
I can share that peace, that comfort, that hope in the midst of trials, with you.
I have freely received. I can freely give.
I have been bought at an extremely high price, redeemed. I can be extravagant in my love for you.
I am protected by the hand of Almighty God, surrounded by His angels, equipped with His armor and the Sword of the Spirit, the Word of God. I can fight for you in the heavenly realms against all the schemes of the enemy.
I have been given spiritual gifts in addition to my natural abilities. I can now share my blessings with you by using my giftedness for the Kingdom of God, giving generously of my time, energy and talent because I know that I can never, ever give away more than God has the ability to give.

Walking by grace IS walking by faith.
Claiming all of God’s promises for my life.
Not just spouting them.
Not even just remembering them.
But putting all my weight in them.
Living as though they are true.
Because I don’t have to see how God is going to protect, provide, comfort, guide, equip, or empower me.
I just know that He will.
Because I am walking by faith, not by sight.

And the very cool thing?
As I walk forward in faith, I can look back.
I can “see in my history the faithful love of the Lord.” (Psalm 107, NLT)
I can see how walking by faith – which is walking by grace, walking by love, walking in power, walking in forgiveness and more – I can see how those things have woven God-sightings into my life. Times I have seen Him work. Times I can point back to and say, “Look what He did!” Times when my faith becomes sight in retrospect.

Which gives me the impetus I need to turn back around, confidently walking toward an unknown future with a well-known God.
Taking the next step.
Because “we walk by faith, not by sight.”

A Message To Those Who Mourn

All the days ordained for me came to pass on Sunday.

I slipped from this thing you know as life into that thing called death.
It was a surprise to me and to you that my body died that way.

But no surprise at all to God.
He knew before time began how my life would begin.
And how it would end.
He knew I would choose Him for myself.
And that I would become of follower of The Way.

He knew that I would choose to worship Him that day at a small Baptist church in Texas.
And He knew that a sin-soaked, sin-filled, hopeless man would decide that my life held no value.
But He also knew that the life that man took is not my real life.
That was just the earthly container that held the real me.
That man could harm my body.
But he could never harm my soul.

I guess you are thinking, “If God knew, why didn’t He stop it?”
He tried.
He whispered to that man’s heart long ago about His love.

But that man rejected His love.
And in His kindness, in His goodness, He refused to make that man a robot.
He gave him the ability to choose.
And that man chose darkness over light.

You probably feel sorry for me.
But, oh, please don’t.
I have seen Jesus face to face.
As soon as my heart beat the last time, He held me in His arms and whispered, “Welcome home.”
And then He took me by the hand and led me to His Father, to our Father.
Who gave me another hug and said, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter our joy!”

And what joy it is has been!
David gave me the details of his fight with Goliath.
Lazarus explained what resurrection really feels like.
Moses showed me what manna looks like.
And Queen Esther and I just hung out and chatted for a while.
I hugged my Grandpa for the first time in years.
And met my great, great grandparents for the first time.
But the best part has been hanging out with Jesus.
Asking my questions.
And soaking in His love.

So, yes, it was a surprise to face a gunman in my church the other day.
I had no idea that Sunday was the day I would transition from death to life.
That man thought he was doing something horrible to me, to us.
But his evil actions brought me to this place, to my home, to no sin, sickness, death or tears.
And I am so glad to be here.
So don’t mourn for me.

Miss me, sure.
But don’t spend your energies on what might have been.
Don’t cry because I am absent from you for a little while.

Instead, weep for all those who do not have hope.
Weep for the men, women and children across the globe who will not have this when they die.
Weep for those who do not know and have not heard about eternal life in Christ.
Spend your energy telling the world about Jesus.
Show them they have a choice – a choice to choose the Kingdom of Light over the kingdom of darkness.
Love them until they ask you why.

Channel your anger about this – about all horrors – against the enemy of our souls.
Stop fighting each other and fight him instead.
Stop living for yourself and seek first God’s Kingdom.
Stop thinking this life is all there is.

And get busy shining.
Being a light on a hillside city in a dark, dark night.
Changing the world one redeemed sinner at a time.
Sharing with them what you already know.
That there is hope.
That there is real life.
That there are real answers.
And real power to live a holy life.

That is the only way to bring peace on earth.
The only way that hearts are changed.
He is the only One – and the Only Way – to turn sorrow into joy, mourning into dancing, and death into life.

So do not weep for me.
Because I am good.
In fact, I am better than I have ever been.
I’ll see you soon.
And until then, keep shining.