Hi guys,

On February 13th, we will be launching our latest study, Hope and a Prayer. This has been an amazing journey for me and I cannot wait to share it with you! The study of hope has been a life-giving and inspiring sojourn.  I have told friends that I think I may even look younger since I started! Now, that’s motivation! If you live in the Nashville area, we would love for you to join us:

Tuesday evenings, beginning Feb. 13th, from 6:30-8 at Brentwood United Methodist and

Wednesday mornings, beginning Feb. 14th, from 9:30-11 at Brentwood United Methodist

The study will run for 8 weeks, and the cost is $25. You may register online (relayoftruth.com/registraton). The cost will include our books along with weekly materials. You know how I love my visuals!

ALSO! Similar to our last study, we will be offering podcasts of the lessons.  If you would like to join us but can’t make it to one of our amazing groups in Nashville, we are making the devotional available on the website store (relayoftruth.com/store) for $15, and you can listen to the lessons from wherever you are. The podcast is available on our website’s listen page or wherever you listen to your favorite podcast. We would love for you to join us.

This is a great way for you to share the study with a friend or loved one. During Relay, I had several women who shared the study with sisters who live around the country and then they talked about it over the phone every Sunday afternoon.  I also had a friend who shared it with her mom. She said that it prompted deeper conversations than they had ever enjoyed. What a great idea! Please spread the word.

Check out the description of the devotional and study on the store site. We would love for you to join us for a heaping dose of hope!

Shawna

Gifts Are His Love Language

As I was putting away our Christmas decorations this year, I was “assessing” our gift giving in my mind. All in all, I gave Rob and I an A. There were a few gift returns (wrong size/wrong color/simply didn’t like), but for the most part, we did just fine. It helps that our kids are older and can now provide item numbers and website locations for their most wanted items. It’s much harder to mess that up! And even though they are not little kids any more, Rob and I love seeing the delight in their faces when they open a longed for item or are pleased with a surprise. We adore our children, and we enjoy nothing more than giving them gifts they love.

And as I thought about all of that this morning…

Alyssa loved her wallet. I knew she would like that color.

Lindsey has already worn her sweater. I thought it looked like her.

Jake could not have been more surprised by his concert tickets.

I couldn’t help but think about our Heavenly Father – because the Bible is very clear:

Our God loves to give gifts to His children!

This world can sometimes give us a jaded image of us having to pry good things from His hand, of us trying to manipulate Him, or having to bargain with Him to get what we want. But that is so far from who God is and what He is like. Look at these verses that describe the way that God loves to give to us.  Read them out loud if you can.

If a child asks his father for a loaf of bread, will he be given a stone instead? If he asks for fish, will he be given a poisonous snake? Of course not! And if you hardhearted, sinful men know how to give good gifts to your children, won’t your Father in heaven even more certainly give good gifts to those who ask him for them?  Matthew 6:9-11TLB

Jehovah God is our Light and our Protector. He gives us grace and glory. No good thing will he withhold from those who walk along His paths. Oh, Lord of the armies of heaven, blessed are those who trust in you.  Psalms 84:11-12TLB

If God is on our side, who can ever be against us? Since he did not spare even his own Son for us but gave him up for us all, won’t he also surely give us everything else?  Romans 8:31-32TLB

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.  James 1:17NIV

Yes, the Lord pours down his blessings on the land and it yields its bountiful crops.   Psalms 85:12

 Our God loves to give us gifts! Say it with me – Our God loves to give us gifts! Just as a parent loves to give their child what they have been hoping for, our Heavenly Father wants us to share our hearts’ desires with Him. It is His great pleasure to give us what we long for. Not only that – the Bible tells us that He wants to give us abundantly more than we can imagine. He enjoys great surprises more than we do!

Does that mean that we get everything we ask for, when we ask for it? No! And thank goodness!  When I was teaching recently, one of the women had her 4-year-old little boy with her (my all time favorite age!) and I asked him what he wanted for Christmas. Without hesitation, he replied, “A drone!”  “A drone?!?” I responded. “What in the world would you do with a drone?” “I’m going to watch everyone, everywhere, all the time,” he answered, as if that should be obvious. Now, while I can see the possible CIA potential in that little boy’s future, I am guessing that his wiser, more mature mother and father are not planning on getting him a drone for Christmas. Smarter senses will prevail. And the things we ask God for are the same way! While we may not see our requests as “drone” equivalents, our Heavenly Father who sees it all and loves us perfectly knows what He is doing and asks us to trust Him. When our God seemingly says “no” to our requests, it is not because He wants to withhold things from us or does not want to see us happy. Quite the opposite! It is because He knows more than we ever will and has something else in store. Today, will you join me in celebrating our God as one who delights in giving us good things? Will you join me in thanking Him for all that He has already given us and for all that He intends to give?

Some of us need to spend some time and intention tearing down a warped and confused view of our Heavenly Father as One who withholds or bargains. That is not who He is! But He understands our broken view, and He lovingly invites us back to Himself.

As I write this, I am thinking of specific women who I know and love, and their requests of God are honorable. They long for a baby, a spouse, to know their purpose, to find their place. They plead for healing and wholeness – for themselves or for someone they love. And though I know the waiting and uncertainty is difficult, I ask you to make your requests again today while celebrating the God who loves to answer. Our God is loving and generous, and He can be trusted. He delights in giving us good things. Keep declaring that with me today.

Mud Puddle It

Early in our marriage, some friends invited Rob and I to a marriage conference.  I don’t think either of us remembers many of the particulars, but we did walk away with a phrase that has served us well for almost 30 years.

“Mud puddle it.”

The speaker was discussing the difference in how women and men tend to handle personal problems. (I’m sure many of you already know what I’m about to say…) He talked about how when women face problems, they tend to want their friends and loved ones to enter into the problem with them. They want to know that someone is seeking to understand what they are going through. They are looking for sympathy and perhaps even empathy. This is not to say women want to wallow, they just want to feel understood and cared for on the forefront.  Men, on the other hand, tend to be focused on the solution. If there is a problem, most men don’t want to discuss it, enter into it, or empathize – they want to fix it.

The speaker compared these differences in viewpoint with a visual of a mud puddle. When women are faced with a mud puddle (a problem), their tendency is to ask those close to them, “Do you care enough to get into my mud puddle with me?” While a man’s perspective tends to be, “How can we, as quickly as possible, clean this mess up?” And that difference in perspective tends to cause conflict! Women feel like their significant other is trying to stay disengaged and free from the complications of the situation. And men feel that their loved one is simply determined to be miserable and frustrated. “Why would I get into the mud puddle if we can simply clean it up?”

Rob and I had definitely experienced this tension. I remember one particular disagreement when I was yelling, “I am not one of your customers! Quit arguing like you are giving a presentation!” And Rob responded in a much more reasonable tone, “I don’t think you are one of my customers. I just think that when two parties….”  …You get my point! And so over the years, we have learned to “mud puddle it” with each other. Rob seeks to enter my pain or frustration and not immediately offer solutions, and I commit to being open to possible solutions sooner rather than later. If either of us feel like the other is losing their balance (not seeking to understand or empathize/ wallowing too long without considering a solution), we simply say, “Mud puddle it.” And we immediately know what the other person is communicating and how they are feeling! Both sides – understanding and solving – feel acknowledged.

And so this morning, when I read this description of Jesus in Hebrews 4, I couldn’t help but think that Jesus is also committed to “mud puddling it” with us. Here is what the writer says

Jesus the Son of God is our great High Priest who has gone to heaven itself to help us; therefore, let us never stop trusting him. This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, since he had the same temptations we do, though he never once gave way to them and sinned. So let us come boldly to the very throne of God and stay there to receive his mercy and to find grace to help us in our times of need.  14-16TLB

It’s a beautiful picture. Jesus completely understands what life on earth can look and feel like. He knows what it is to be

Jealous

Angry

Hurt

Frightened

Anxious

Discontent

Frustrated

Betrayed

He has been there! He has done life on Planet Earth. Jesus knows what it is to struggle and go without. He knows what it is to have life take you in a direction that you would not have chosen. He has done it! We never have to be concerned about whether or not our Savior is willing or able to enter into our pain or frustration. We can know with confidence that He always understands our temptations and tendencies. He chose to fully enter into our humanity! Philippians 2 tells us that God chose to become man. The thought is overwhelming if we pause to consider it.

However – Jesus never sinned. He never submitted to temptations and weaknesses. And thus, He remains our Savior.  He remains our perfect High Priest. So what does that mean to you?  You can come to God just where you are with just what you have, and be met by Jesus who fully understands. He feels our pain. He knows our frustration. He understands our weaknesses. And He responds to us with a solution! He fully knows and understands our struggles and responds with His outstretched hand of salvation. If we rely on Him and commit to giving Him our problems and our weaknesses, He promises us

Mercy – We are saved from what we deserve. That doesn’t mean that we won’t experience the consequences of our actions. It does mean that our God is committed to using even our consequences for our good and His glory if we are walking them out with Him.

and

Grace – God promises to meet our needs. His strength becomes our strength. His love becomes our love. His courage becomes our courage. His wisdom becomes our wisdom. He gives us Himself.

We have a High Priest who is willing to “mud puddle it” with us. He promises! He enters into our hurt, our disappointment, our frustration, our failure. He understands. But make no mistake, His hand is always outstretched to deliver us from our mess. To offer us salvation. Even when there is no current solution to our “mud,” Jesus offers us the mercy and grace that we need to walk through the mess. He never leaves us where He finds us. He promises to deliver us. Thank you, Jesus.

 

 

One Day at a Time

I have felt like a tight ball of rubber bands since I woke up this morning – ready to snap! at any moment. I rolled out of bed immediately overwhelmed by all that I needed to get done. And my disposition reflected my darting, anxious thoughts. I could sense Rob looking for a way to quietly sneak out of the house to work. Even Sydney, our dog, seemed to be running for cover. I loudly growled at the gas pump when it refused to accept my credit card and referred me to the cashier. I glared at the grocery store clerk when he failed to double bag some of my heavy items. If you have texted me today, I apologize. My responses have been curt, almost rude. “Can’t you see that I am tremendously busy? I don’t have time for this.” The stress and tension inside of me has just seemed to escalate throughout the day.

But as I was just unpacking my groceries, I heard my inner voice say, “It seems to me you are in pretty good shape for today. Just what has you wound so tightly?”

I began to list in my head all of my to-do’s for the week: A writing deadline. A project with Lindsey for her class. A dinner party. Company arriving. Gifts that need to be purchased. Meals that need to be planned. A dog sitter to arrange.

But then I asked myself…

“But don’t you have plenty of time and resources for today?”

“Yes. Plenty. I should even have time to put a dent in tomorrow’s list.”

“Then what’s the problem? Let’s enjoy today, and take it one day at a time. How you are acting is ridiculous.

And I had to agree – with myself. (:

Have you noticed? It is rarely the day’s agendas and demands that overwhelm us. It is rarely the thought of how we will do the day we are in that has us gasping for air. It is invariably the thought of all the days to come!

How am I going to get all of this done?

What if I am single forever?

What if we never have kids?

What if I am always stuck in this job?

What if this is my struggle for a lifetime?

It is generally the projection of problems in days to come that overwhelms us. That’s why I just adore this promise from our Heavenly Father in Deuteronomy 33:25NIV,

 “Your strength will equal your days.”

And the promise has two sides! First, God reminds us that He is very into daily doses! Just as we see in so many ways throughout the Bible, God tends not to give us a storehouse of provision. Rather, He longs for us to look to Him for the daily. Relying on God for each day in itself reminds us where our provision comes from and it steers us toward our relationship with Him (which is so important to our loving Heavenly Father!). In my experience and observation, we always seem to have some area of our lives where we are needing to trust our God to meet our daily needs. That is how He has designed it to be. It shouldn’t surprise us. We should expect it.

And second, the promise assures us that our strength will equal our days! A perfect, all-knowing, all-powerful God customizes our strength for our day. It is a beautiful thought. Is your day demanding? You can expect God to give you that level of strength. Do you find the weight of responsibilities and demands more than you have ever lifted? Your God will give you that strength. And here’s a mind-blowing thought – we shouldn’t be surprised when we don’t understand how we will face an upcoming challenge. We haven’t been given that strength yet! It will come as the need does. And when we find our strength depleted as we lay our heads on our pillows, there is nothing to fear. Tomorrow will bring a new deposit. God will never allow anything into our day without fully providing the resources that we need.

 Anxiety is a signal that we are looking at tomorrow with today’s resources.

Years ago, when my dad was going through some very difficult circumstances, I commented to him that I didn’t know how he was doing it. I think my exact words were, “It’s too much, dad.” And his response was, “Never look at someone else and wonder how they are doing it. Never look and assume that God has allowed too much for them to bear. You are not seeing the grace that God has given. You are not experiencing the strength that is offered to them.”

And that is so true! So what if we focus on the day that we are currently in? What if we move with the confidence that our Heavenly Father will provide strength to equal the demands of our day? He promises that He will! And what if we counted on the custom-designed grace that He says is already ours? I don’t know about you, but my day is already looking up! And Sydney just peaked her head around the corner. I think she senses a change in the atmosphere too.

 

 

 

 

Nothing Will Compare!

Alyssa – wearing her “fruit dress” uniform!

I had very difficult pregnancies. I didn’t have morning sickness. I had all day sickness. They tell you that you’ll be sick for the first 3 months. I was sick for 6 or 7. Alyssa liked to rest in a way that pinched my sciatic nerve which made it impossible for me to move. All of my pregnancies ended in me requiring bed rest. Now don’t quit reading – I’m not just complaining! I am explaining the situations that led to the creation of my notebook. About month 2 into my first pregnancy, I decided to keep a diary of my aches, pains, and discomforts. (That way if I was ever tempted to go down this path again, I could remind myself of the horror and decide otherwise.  (:  Our first child was going to be our last child. I had made up my mind, and was documenting it all just in case I forgot.

And then Alyssa was born. Every parent is smiling. I am quite certain that nothing can prepare you for the overwhelming love and joy of having a child. Not only did the journal seem silly. It seemed downright naïve. I was embarrassed even to keep it! What pain could possibly compare to the incredible privilege of being Alyssa’s mom? I would do it a hundred times over. A thousand!

And that is exactly the feeling that I am reminded of when Paul says,

“What we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory He will give us later.”  Romans 8:18LB

 Paul never denies or ignores the difficulty of what we are going through now. The experiences and events of this world can be nothing short of terrible. He doesn’t try to dismiss our pain. In fact, his description is quite candid.

For all creation is waiting patiently and hopefully for that future day when God will resurrect His children. For on that day thorns and thistles, sin, death, and decay – the things that overcame the world against its will at God’s command – will all disappear, and the world around us will share in the glorious freedom from sin which God’s children enjoy. For we know that even the things of nature, like animals and plants, suffer in sickness and death as they await this great event. And even we Christians, although we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, also groan to be released from pain and suffering. We, too, wait anxiously for that day when God will give us our full rights as His children, including the new bodies He has promised us – bodies that will never be sick again and will never die. Romans 8:19-23LB

 Planet Earth can afford great hurt and disappointment at times. God has allowed it. He said that sin would bring death, and sin has brought death. There isn’t one of us that couldn’t start a little notebook about aches, pains, and heartbreak. But not one of us will even think about that notebook once we cross heaven’s gates!

I remember one time complaining to my dad about something that God was allowing him to go through, and my dad responded, “Just wait until you see all the ways God is going to leverage this for great things. There won’t be any Believer asking for a ‘God rewrite’ in heaven. If He allowed it, He is committed to using it for our good and His glory if we will allow Him to do so.”

The Apostle Paul agrees. Just a little further down in Romans 8, he tells us, “We know that all that happens to us is working for our good if we love God and are fitting into His plans.” Romans 8:28LB  That is a promise our Heavenly Father has made to us. So here is the question of the day:  If we have been promised that nothing that we have been asked to endure on earth will hold a birthday candle to the glory of heaven, will we trust God with our current pain and struggles? I don’t ask that question lightly. I know that some of you are currently trudging through great difficulty, are suffering the loss of a dream, the loss of a loved one, perhaps even the loss of your own life as you knew it or wanted it to be.

Will we trust God to use our earthly pain and loss for our good and His glory?

Recently, I was in a small group Bible study when a young 20 something commented, “As a Believer, nothing happens to me. It always happens for me when I am walking with my God and committed to His plan.” The maturity and wisdom of that statement blew me away, and that is powerful stuff! I know that this life can be hard. I know that it can seem like it might break us at times. But one day soon, we will all be looking for the recycle bin in heaven (surely heaven recycles) to deposit our notebooks of difficulty and pain. We can bet on it! It’s a promise. Nothing will compare to the glory our God has for His children. And if He has allowed it to be a part of our lives, He is committed to using it for our good and for His glory. We can write that down!

Jenna! This is so much nicer than Mom’s set!

I grew up in the age of flannel-graph. For those who didn’t (i.e. anyone born after 1980), I will try to explain the innovative wonder. The flannel-graph consisted of a large board covered with flannel that usually stood on an easel. It was used with paper characters that also had a flannel backing which enabled them to stick to the flannel board. Can you picture it? It really was a modern day marvel of the 60’s and 70’s, and it was used religiously in my Sunday School class (see what I did there?) to tell Bible stories.  To this day, when I recall classic Bible stories, I can picture those paper characters on the board.

The memories are making me smile even as I type this. You see, my mom was a Sunday School teacher and…drum-roll please…she owned her very own flannel-graph board and collection of stories! My sister, Jenna, and I would take turns playing the teacher or the student. (Jenna would say that I got to take a few more turns being the teacher than she did!) And in our many hours of playing with the flannel-graph, we encountered a couple of challenges…

* All of the characters looked alike! The flannel-graph artist apparently had a very low budget or a very low repertoire. If you were to mix up the characters during your play, you were in a heap of trouble. Because David looked a lot like Daniel who also looked a lot like Joseph. They just had different colored robes and sashes. At times, you were even instructed to use the same character to play different people!

* But that wasn’t the worst part – The set only came with one glowing angel and a few versions of Jesus (one kneeling/one standing/one holding all of the kids on his lap). This was a true flaw in the system because (believe it or not) angels and Jesus are in a lot of stories! Just by their sheer usage, these characters became wrinkled and worn out. Eventually, my mom insisted that we use other characters to play the glowing angel and Jesus. In those days, there was no getting online to order replacement parts!

But I digress…. This morning, I was thinking about that one glowing angel. In the Bible, the book of Daniel tells the account of, (you guessed it!), Daniel – a young man who was captured in Israel and taken as a slave to the country of Babylon. Because of his intelligence and good looks, he was given a position in the palace as a counselor to King Nebuchadnezzar.

Not surprisingly, this resulted in jealousy and resentment from the other resident counselors. Eventually, after Daniel had been promoted to a top position within the empire, they conspired together and came up with a plan to have Daniel executed. They presented the king with the idea that if a person should ask anyone for favor except the king, they should be thrown into the lion’s den. They knew that Daniel would not stop praying to his God, and they intended to use it for his demise.  These people were not messing around! The Bible tells us that the king, not realizing that his counselors were targeting Daniel, agreed to the plan. And within a few days, Daniel was indeed thrown into the lion’s den. This is what the Bible tells us happened:

A stone was brought and placed over the mouth of the den; and the king sealed it with his own signet ring, and that of his government, so that no one could rescue Daniel from the lions. Then the king returned to his palace and went to bed without dinner. He refused his usual entertainment and didn’t sleep all night. Very early the next morning he hurried out to the lions’ den and called out in anguish, “O Daniel, servant of the Living God, was your God, who you worship continually, able to deliver you from the lions?” Then he heard a voice! “Your Majesty, live forever!” It was Daniel! My God has sent an angel,” he said, “to shut the lions’ mouths so that they can’t touch me; for I am innocent before God, nor, sir, have I wronged you. The King was beside himself with joy and ordered Daniel lifted from the den. And not a scratch was found on him; because he believed in his God.  Daniel 6:17-23

And I can still picture that glowing angel being placed on the board as the lions moved from ferocious, wild beasts to domesticated cats lying all about the floor of the den as Daniel knelt there praying. I highly recommend that you read the entire story!

In the flannel-graph world, sometimes the glowing angel represented an angel sent by God. At other times, it represented God Himself coming into the story. But, in the end, it didn’t matter. Because this is the earth-shaking, mind-blowing, life-altering message of the Bible:

Wherever we are, and whatever we are doing

Our God is always with us.

Look at these remarkable promises:

 “Be strong! Be courageous! Don’t be afraid, for the Lord will go before you and will be with you; He will not fail nor forsake you.”  Deuteronomy 31:8

“I will not abandon you or fail to help you. Be strong and brave.” Joshua 1:5-6

“For God has said, ‘I will never, never fail you nor forsake you.’ That is why we can say without any doubt or fear, ‘The Lord is my Helper and I am not afraid of anything that mere man can do to me.’” Hebrews 13:5

 As I was choosing which promises I wanted to include, it made me tear up how many times this promise was stated in the Bible. I once read that the promise of God’s presence and protection is found in the Bible 365 times – one promise for every day of the year. Our Heavenly Father longs for us to remember that He is always with us. And He knew how easy it would be for us to forget in this lifetime. So, as we go about our day today, what if we pictured Him in every room? In every circumstance? Because that is the reality! The Almighty God of the universe goes with us always. He will never leave us or turn His back on us. If our lives are ever put into flannel-graph form, a glowing angel would come with every story  ( : . Let’s move today with that confidence and peace.

 

It’s Not About Me

So maybe a pocket-knife was a bad idea…

So here’s a funny Keller story… When Jake was around 6, he received a fancy pocket knife as a gift. He and Rob had been camping quite a bit, and the knife was a definite treasure. I know what you may be thinking. “Is a pocket knife an appropriate gift for a 6 year-old?” But Jake was a sweet kid and responsible…

Within a few days of Jake receiving his pocket knife, I walked by an antique chest in our entry hall (given to us by Rob’s grandmother) and happened to notice a small “JK” carved into the side of the chest. Now, Rob happened to work with a Jack Kazmerowitz at the time. But I had a feelingggg that the culprit lived closer to the premises.

The confrontation was not pretty. Rob led the interrogation J. Jake claimed he knew nothing about it. He had no idea who could have done it. Had no idea how or when it could have happened. But Jake’s little face looked panicked. I could have sworn there were drops of sweat at his temples. Then suddenly – he cracked! His face in his hands, his words barely audible over his sobs, Jake choked out the words, “That was a horrible day! That wasn’t the only sin I did that day. I just kept sinning and sinning and sinning…” It was heart wrenching! I began to cry right along with him. I suggested to Rob that given the level of contrition, discipline was probably not necessary…. Rob wisely held firm and thought otherwise.

And as you might expect, Jake’s “confession” has become a regular part of stories told in the Keller household when we know that we’ve messed up. “I just kept sinning and sinning and sinning….”  Lindsey quipped recently that her life verse (the verse that she intends to define her life) should be Romans 7:15, “I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate.”  We have all been there. Perhaps even today! Our intentions are good. We have the best of plans. And then we walk by a wooden chest with a brand new pocket knife.

Jesus came as a Savior because we all need saving – from our pride, our anger, our propensity to lie and cover up, from our greed, jealousy, idolatry, and hatred. We all need saving! And while our acknowledgement of Jesus as our Savior begins the process of our sanctification (the process of us being made holy), we can still all be grossly disappointed with our actions on any given day. “Whyyyy did I say that?” “Howww could I do that?” “Whattt is it going to take for me to quit??”

Our need for a Savior does not end with the acknowledgement of our need. We all need saving every single day. That is why our relationship with our Heavenly Father is based on His actions, not ours! It is based on His character, not ours.  Here is the promise that I am celebrating today:

When God our Savior revealed His kindness and love, He saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of His mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit. He generously poured out the Spirit upon us through Jesus Christ our Savior. Because of His grace He declared us righteous and gave us confidence that we will inherit eternal life.          Titus 3:4-5NLT

These verses in Ephesians communicate a similar promise and truth:

Because of His kindness you have been saved through trusting Christ. And even trusting is not of yourselves; it too is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good we have done, so none of us can take any credit for it. It is God Himself who has made us what we are and given us new lives from Christ Jesus; and long ages ago He planned that we should spend these lives in helping others.     Ephesians 2:8-10LB

I would love for us to make a few observations. When God provided the payment for our salvation through the death of Jesus, He was revealing His kindness and love. It wasn’t about what we had done or could do. It was about His kindness and love for us. He knew that our salvation would be entirely about His mercy (saving us from what we deserve), and that we would be defined by His grace. It’s not about me! It’s not about you! Through grace, God makes His strength – our strength. His courage – our courage. His love – our love. His wisdom – our wisdom. His righteousness – our righteousness.

It is a mind-blowing thought. Our Heavenly Father understands when we are frustrated by our actions. He is neither surprised nor intimidated by our need. That is why Jesus came! Our salvation is always and only all about Him. It’s not about us.

As you read further in Titus 3 or Ephesians 2, you discover that the realization of our need and God’s provision should result in profound gratitude and a desire to walk in obedience and demonstrate His love to others. If it has not, or we have lost our way, we probably need to go back to the initial message.

I just keep sinning and sinning and sinning.

And in God’s mercy and grace, as a demonstration of His kindness and love, He just keeps saving and saving and saving.

Will He allow us to experience the consequences of our actions? Absolutely. Will He discipline us? We can count on it. (Hebrews 12:6) Just like any good parent (Rob, in this case) He desires for us to remember the price of our disobedience. But God’s correction is always a demonstration of His kindness and love.  So where do we need to come clean? Where do we need to acknowledge our carved initials? Our Heavenly Father meets us there today.  Our salvation is never about what we can bring to the table. Because we don’t have anything to bring. Sometimes we forget that – and trying to earn our salvation is exhausting! It’s impossible. Trying to earn God’s favor will leave us frustrated and empty. Our relationship with our God was always, and is always, all about our Heavenly Father’s unwavering kindness and love. It’s not about us. It’s about Him. Let’s celebrate that today.

Perfection Is Coming

I want to start with this: We all desire to be perfect, look perfect, and live in a perfect world – because that is exactly what we were designed to enjoy. There is nothing wrong with us when we find ourselves longing for perfection. We desire it because that is what God intended for us to experience! But sin came, and the Bible tells us that the result was death. Physical death? Yes. But also death of God’s intended design. Death of perfection. Death of the way things should be. And with that death, came the birth of the angst and longing for what we lost.

There are days when I feel pasted, stapled, and glued together. And in many ways, I feel this way because it’s true! Pain is something that I must manage nearly every day. I’m not whining! I’m just explaining! There are definitely days when this body of mine and I are not on the same side. I can feel like I am simply luggggging it around! And I know that my experience pales in comparison to many others.

Close friends of mine have battled with everything in them to get their bodies a little farther down the line. They have had to make great physical and emotional sacrifices to prolong their lives.  I think many of us would agree that we have had our fill of the impact this world can have on our own bodies or the bodies of those we love. Rare is the person who has not been directly impacted by physical challenges: sickness, cancer, heart disease, arthritis, poor eyesight, injuries, debilitating headaches, infertility…. Unfortunately, the list is long!

Some of us have greeted our reflection in the mirror with displeasure or dissatisfaction for as long as we can remember. Too big…too small…crooked…too wide…we all have our “toos” and our “not enoughs.” Age has taken its toll. Metabolism has wreaked havoc. The gene pool has sprung a leak! We can spend inordinate amounts of time trying to tie up what gravity is pulling down. The person who has not struggled with some part of their physical appearance is…well…lying. Haha

Did you know that the Bible talks about these frustrations? The Apostle Paul was extremely empathetic. We are never told exactly what his malady was (perhaps so we could all think that it was the same as ours!) but he struggled with one. At one point, he is extremely vulnerable and shares that he begged God to heal him, but God did not. That knowledge makes this passage in 2 Corinthians 5 all the more powerful. Listen to Paul’s excitement. Read it out loud if you can.

For we know that when this tent we live in now is taken down – when we die and leave these bodies – we will have wonderful new bodies in heaven, homes that will be ours forevermore, made for us by God himself, and not by human hands. How weary we grow of our present bodies. That is why we look forward eagerly to the day when we shall have heavenly bodies which we shall put on like new clothes. For we shall not be merely spirits without bodies. These earthly bodies make us groan and sigh, but we wouldn’t like to think of dying and having no bodies at all. We want to slip into our new bodies so that these dying bodies will, as it were, be swallowed up by everlasting life. 1-4

I love that Paul refers to our current bodies as tents. No one lives in a tent permanently. It is designed to be a temporary residence. And on particularly difficult days, I love to remind myself that all things physical are going to pass and perfection is coming! Our Heavenly Father has promised. Please don’t miss any of the details. Paul tells us that we will enjoy heavenly bodies made by God Himself. He will finally get to show us what He had in mind all along! Perfect, eternal bodies.  In other words, they are not going to age! We are not going to get sick! We will not struggle with the physical challenges we face daily in our lives now. Imagine…

When my sister, Jenna, and I were little kids, we would regularly ask my mom why Miss Jones put circles of blush up by her eyes. We would ask why Mrs. Smith put her lipstick around her mouth instead of on her lips. The older I get, the more I realize that Miss Jones was just putting her blush where her cheeks used to be! Mrs. Smith was putting her lipstick where she used to find her lips! This world can take its toll. I love that Paul says we grow weary of our present bodies. I love his openness and honesty when he acknowledges that our earthly bodies make us groan and sigh.

But drum-roll please! Perfect, eternal bodies are coming! And until that time? Did you know that Paul was referring to his chronic physical struggles when he infamously said, “When I am weak, then I am strong”?* Paul found that as he leaned into His God with His physical weakness and struggles, God was committed to showing up in a big way in His life. Paul explains that his physical weakness kept him focused on God’s strength and demonstrated the power and beauty of God in his life. I am convinced that the same is true for us.

Perfection is coming. But until then, our Heavenly Father is committed to using our weaknesses and our struggles to show us Himself and make us strong. Sounds like a win/win to me. May I suggest a song to listen to today? Matt Redman’s song One Day will have you singing and shouting about our upcoming perfection. I highly recommend it!

* 2 Corinthians 12:10

Our daughter, Alyssa, is a gift giver. It is her love language for sure. Months before a person’s birthday, wedding, graduation, first day of school, last day of school, completed test…. Alyssa is thinking about the perfect gift. She is planning the gift wrap and presentation. The girl loves to give!

And that is the image that I want to have when I read this promise in Luke 12.

Look at the lilies! They don’t toil and spin, and yet Solomon in all his glory was not robed as well as they are. And if God provides clothing for the flowers that are here today and gone tomorrow, don’t you suppose that he will provide clothing for you, you doubters? And don’t worry about food – what to eat and drink; don’t worry at all that God will provide it for you. All mankind scratches for its daily bread, but your heavenly Father knows your needs. He will always give you all you need from day to day if you will make the Kingdom of God your primary concern. So don’t be afraid, little flock. For it gives your Father great happiness to give you the Kingdom. 27-31

The Berean Bilble translates verse 31, “Your Father took delight to give you the Kingdom.” In a culture that rarely struggles with clothing and food, the beauty and power of these verses can get lost. So let’s try it this way: What consumes your thoughts? Where do you need to see God come through for you?

This fallen world can take a toll on our image of a giving God. Satan loves making us feel like we are having to pry good things from God’s hands. But that is not what our God is like! That is not who He is. Let these promises wash over you.

Ask, and you will be given what you ask for. Seek, and you will find. Knock, and the door will be opened. For everyone who asks, receives. Anyone who seeks, finds. If only you will knock, the door will open. If a child asks his father for a loaf of bread, will he be given a stone instead? If he asks for fish, will he be given a poisonous snake? Of course not! And if you hardhearted, sinful men know how to give good gifts to your children, won’t your Father in heaven even more certainly give good gifts to those who ask Him for them? Matthew 7:7-11

And so this morning, I have spent time celebrating some of the things that the Bible says God delights in giving us! I have pictured Alyssa in all of her excitement as she finds the perfect gift and selects the perfect paper and bow – and then pictured my precious Heavenly Father’s delight in giving us the things that we long for. Which of these promises do you need to walk around with today? Read them out loud if you can.

The Lord grants wisdom! His every word is a treasure of knowledge and understanding. He grants good sense to the godly – his saints. He is their shield, protecting them and guarding their pathway. He shows how to distinguish right from wrong, how to find the right decision every time.” Proverbs 2:6-9

“He will give his people strength. He will bless them with peace.” Psalms 29:11

He hears me from highest heaven and sends great victories. Some nations boast of armies and of weaponry, but our boast is in the Lord our God. Those nations will collapse and perish; we will arise to stand firm and strong.” Psalms 20:6-8

“It is useless for you to work so hard from early morning until late at night, anxiously working for food to eat; for God gives rest to his loved one.” Psalms 127:2

 

“Be delighted with the Lord. Then he will give you all your heart’s desires. Commit everything you do to the Lord. Trust him to help you do it and he will.” Psalms 37:4

The Angel of the Lord guards and rescues all who reverence him. Oh, put God to the test and see how kind he is! See for yourself the way his mercies shower down on all who trust Him.” Psalms 34:7-8

I could go on for days! Our Heavenly Father delights in giving us gifts. He relishes watching over us and providing for us. He wants to give us the desires of our hearts, and even more – the things we could have never dreamed we deserved or needed. The Creator of the Universe finds joy in giving us good things. Let’s walk in that confidence.

Sees in Secret

My daughter was recently on a mission trip and the group was challenged to refrain from using any social media while they were there. As they loved and ministered to the community, they challenged each other to avoid posting pictures, statuses, or tweets. The leaders knew that it would not happen without resistance! Sharing on social media has become such a part of the fabric of our culture. Being on the other side of the world ministering to children and those in need is considered a prime opportunity to share! But my daughter and her friends challenged each other. What if we all simply focused on serving this week? What if we gave of our time and ourselves without considering how many “likes” a picture might get or how many accolades a caption might receive?

Our culture has become profoundly public in its experiences. I watched someone yesterday posting what they were having for breakfast! One of my kids was reading me the posts of an acquaintance who was choosing to make their breakup public with hashtags like #heartbroken and #neversawitcoming. If we are not careful, we can sometimes slip into “advertising” actions that our Heavenly Father tells us are better kept private.

Look at these instructions from Jesus in Matthew 6 about giving and serving,

Take care! Don’t do your good deeds publicly, to be admired, for then you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven. When you give a gift to a beggar, don’t shout about it as the hypocrites do – blowing trumpets in the synagogues and streets to call attention to their acts of charity! I tell you in all earnestness, they have received all the reward they will ever get. But when you do a kindness to someone, do it secretly – don’t tell your left hand what your right hand is doing. And your Father who knows all secrets will reward you. (1-4)

Given the very “social” world that we currently live in, we may want to read that a second time. Jesus is cautioning us about our motives in giving and serving. In a culture that is addicted to public praise and approval, it will require discipline and intentionality to ensure that we are giving and serving for the right reasons, and that we continue to give and serve for the right reasons. Our Heavenly Father knows how easy it is for us to begin doing things with the wrong motivation – and He knows that never takes us in the right direction for long.

Look at what Jesus said about prayer,

When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites who pretend piety by praying publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them. Truly, that is all the reward they will ever get. But when you pray, go away by yourself, all alone, and shut the door behind you and pray to your Father secretly, and your Father, who knows your secrets, will reward you. (5-6)

Obviously, public prayer has its place. Throughout the Bible, we are encouraged to pray together. Jesus’s point here is the motivation of our hearts. Are we praying because of what someone else thinks of us? Who are we really wanting to hear us? God or someone else?

I love how the NIV translates the ends of both of these passages. They are identical.

“Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

 That’s a promise! The King James Version actually adds the word “openly.” It says that our God who sees in secret will reward us openly. Even as I type that, I am thinking of the custodian of the church where I grew up, Mr. Abbott. A man of few words, he quietly and graciously cared for our church and served the congregation. I can only imagine the parade that was held in heaven upon his arrival! I am thinking of the countless mothers I know who have quietly pled for their child’s health, happiness, and relationship with God. I am thinking of the missionaries around the world and at home who have given their lives for the service of others and the cause of Jesus, with zero recognition or notoriety here on earth.

Our God sees! And He rewards! He promises.

In a world obsessed with public posts, likes, and accolades, let’s check our hearts. Let’s examine our motivations. I am not suggesting that we abandon social media. I am suggesting that in a culture like ours, the right motives will not come easily. This isn’t about paranoia. It’s about intention. Why are we giving? When we are praying, are we talking to God or for someone else in the room? Let’s live with intention. Let’s trust our God for His reward and not settle for this world’s.

Let’s walk in the confidence that our God who sees what we do in secret desires to reward us openly. Our Heavenly Father delights in giving us good things. He knows how easy it is for our hearts to go astray, and He desires to protect them.