Month: December 2020

  • Finding the Goodness of God

    The beginning of a new year is one of my favorite times of the year (although, I’ll admit I have several!). The new year is this clean slate, this sense that we can start anew and fresh. Every January 1st, I feel this hopeful anticipation of what the new year might bring. I usually sit down and create a list of goals and hopes for the coming year, as well as look back at what I have accomplished and experienced in the past year.

    I’m sure when we all started this year, we had high hopes for what 2020 would bring. I know looking back on my list of goals for the year, more than half of them weren’t even possible because of the pandemic. It would be so easy to look back over the year and write it off as one big loss and a waste of a year–so many missed opportunities to be with friends and loved ones, so many missed events, so many unrealized hopes and expectations.

    But as I look back upon this past year, what stands out to me isn’t the things I missed out on (which like you, was plenty), but rather the good things that I hadn’t expected. Just like the pandemic, these things weren’t even on my radar.

    For me, 2020 was a year of seeing God work impossible dreams and make them reality. God brought to life a long-time dream of starting an area-wide women’s conference that could refresh and revive women as they heard from Godly speakers who brought God’s word. This became a reality just a short three weeks before the pandemic hit. We had originally wanted to do the conference in the spring but God, in His infinite wisdom, prompted us to hold it in February.

    Another thing I didn’t see coming in 2020 was the miracle of a new house! My husband and I have wanted to buy our own home for a very long time but because of circumstances, we have been unable to for most of our marriage. Our family (and ministries) have grown and we needed a bigger space but we couldn’t see a way to make that happen. Out of the blue, our landlord decided that she wanted to sell the house we were living in and we were thrown into a situation where we had to find somewhere to live. God turned what started as a stressful situation into one of the best blessings we have ever received—making it possible for us to purchase a new home that fits us perfectly.

    These are just a couple of the many ways God has brought about good in the midst of a difficult year in my life, but I have heard story after story about the ways God has worked and brought about good things in the lives of others.

    This was the year that one of my best friends finally found and married the love of her life after twenty years of waiting. This was the year that our church was able to transform our worship center into a food pantry for those in need during the pandemic and become the hands and feet of Jesus, being good news to those in our community. This is the year that my sister-in-law found out she was pregnant after years of trying and fighting infertility. This is the year that my daughter’s friend decided to give her life to Jesus. This is the year that we connected with family and friends, so much more than in the past because the crisis brought us together and helped us see what was truly important.

    This year tried so hard to force us into despair, but God gave us the beauty of His hope instead. When we choose to see what’s possible with God, we realize that the goodness of God has been there all along. He has never left our side and will continue to work for our good, no matter what circumstances we face in this life.

    And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.”

    Romans 8:28 (NLT)

    This year definitely tested our faith and our perseverance, but if we look back I know we can see God’s fingerprints all over this year and in each of our lives. The trials we faced have proven only to strengthen our faith and to make us stronger in the Lord.

    For so many people, this year brought not merely disappointment and changed plans, but crushing heartache and loss. If your wounds are still fresh, it may take you a while to see God’s goodness and that’s okay. Right now, know that God is sitting with you in your grief, holding you near and helping you to stand, even if in your sorrow He seems far away. God’s goodness may look like a friend or family member bringing you a meal or flowers or a text asking how you are doing. As God has done so much of this year, He will continue to work through the people around you to sustain you and bring you comfort and hope. It may not be tomorrow, but there will come a point when you will be able to look back and see His tender hand of mercy carrying you through your darkest moments.

    No matter what you have faced in 2020, as you look back at this past year and look ahead to the next, take some time to look for the good–there is always goodness to be found. Try and see how God has been at work bringing about good things because “every good gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” James 1:17 (NIV)

    As surely as God was present and active in 2020, He goes before us now into the New Year, working powerfully on our behalf, shaping us each day to be more like Him so we can be a light to the world around us. Keep a lookout…there is goodness to be found.

    Happy New Year!

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  • Enduring Hope

    What a year, right?! This has definitely been a year that has pushed our patience and endurance to the limits. Since March, we have all been expectantly waiting for this pandemic to end so we can return to life as we once knew it. We long for life to feel normal, for gatherings with loved ones, for outings and adventures. But more than that, this season has revealed a deeper need, one that has been there a lot longer than the pandemic–a longing for peace and justice, for the world to be made right, for healing and restoration, for Jesus to return and make things the way they were intended to be.

    In the book of Luke, we are introduced to a prophetess named Anna, who understood firsthand this kind of expectant waiting. She endured faithfully, waiting in hope for 84 years for the Messiah. 84 years! Can you even imagine??

    Anna had only been married 7 years when her husband passed. Instead of getting remarried, Anna dedicated herself to the Lord and lived in the Temple, fasting and praying every day as she waited expectantly for the Messiah to come and bring justice and peace to the world. One day, a devout man named Simeon, led by the Holy Spirit, shows up at the Temple and experiences with Anna the fulfillment of a life-long hope.

    At that time there was a man in Jerusalem named Simeon. He was righteous and devout and was eagerly waiting for the Messiah to come and rescue Israel. The Holy Spirit was upon him and had revealed to him that he would not die until he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. That day the Spirit led him to the Temple. So when Mary and Joseph came to present the baby Jesus to the Lord as the law required, Simeon was there. He took the child in his arms and praised God, saying, “Sovereign Lord, now let your servant die in peace, as you have promised. I have seen your salvation, which you have prepared for all people. He is a light to reveal God to the nations, and he is the glory of your people Israel!”

    ….Anna, a prophet, was also there in the Temple. She was the daughter of Phanuel from the tribe of Asher, and she was very old. Her husband died when they had been married only seven years. Then she lived as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the Temple but stayed there day and night, worshiping God with fasting and prayer. She came along just as Simeon was talking with Mary and Joseph, and she began praising God. She talked about the child to everyone who had been waiting expectantly for God to rescue Jerusalem.

    Luke 2:25-32, 36-38

    The season of Advent is a time of expectant waiting for the arrival of the Messiah. As we celebrate Advent each year, we often stop when we get to the scene in the manger. Jesus has arrived! But the advent story isn’t truly complete until we see those who have been waiting for the Messiah finally experience their hope fulfilled. What a glorious moment that must have been when Anna saw Jesus and Simeon held the Savior in his arms! Their prophetic testimony in the Christmas story brings a conclusion to this time of waiting and announces a new season has begun–the season of restoration and reconciliation!

    Like Anna, we too are expectantly waiting for Jesus to return and bring restoration and reconciliation to its fullness. But waiting is hard and enduring in hope can be even harder. Anna saw no evidence of God’s approach, no reassuring signs that pointed to the coming of the Messiah…and yet she persevered in hope because her confidence in God was sure.

    Hope isn’t just a wish that good things will happen, but rather confidence in the author of the outcome. True hope is deeper than mere wishful thinking–it is the confident belief that God is faithful and will complete what He has begun, that history in all it’s difficulties and details is fully under his control. And that God’s outcome will be good and glorious!

    Following Jesus is an exercise in hope. We spend much of our lives like Anna–being faithful in the waiting while God is powerfully (and often invisibly) at work all around us. Our hope is sustained in times of waiting because we know that the same God that kept His promises to Simeon and to Anna, will keep His promises to us.

    So today, wait patiently in hope, secure in the One that can be trusted with the future, the One who redeems the time of our enduring patience. Remind your friends and loved ones and be encouraged that hope does not disappoint, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. (Romans 5:5)

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  • Beholding the Savior

    Often when we think of the Christmas story, we think of the early days–the angel appearing to Mary, her miraculous pregnancy, Joseph and Mary traveling to Bethlehem, Mary giving birth to Jesus in a manger. Every detail of the story is incredible and inspires awe and wonder. 

    But Jesus continued to grow, and even though Mary knew before he was born that he was Immanuel, God with us, Jesus was also her little boy. She tended to his scraped knees when he fell down, and made him soup when he wasn’t feeling well. As he grew into a man, and his ministry began, Mary was no doubt filled with a sense of wonder at hearing about him healing the lame, the sick, and the blind. Mary must have marveled at how God was working in their midst through Jesus. As a mom, I can’t help but think she would have been filled with nostalgia as she remembered cradling Jesus as a baby, and overwhelmed with awe as she watched him turn water into wine and raise Lazarus from the dead. 

    I wonder when the moment was that she began to see Jesus, and all the incredible gifts He had through the Father, and realized that she was beholding the Savior. Was it a certain miracle that He performed that made her stop and recognize God in flesh standing before her? Was it something He said or a Holy Spirit feeling that would prompt her to see Jesus as Lord and worship? 

    What will that moment look like for you, when God’s love breaks through the noise of our everyday hustle and bustle and you behold the Savior in your midst? 

    Perhaps it will be in the soft glow of the Christmas lights as you soak in God’s peace and feel His presence wrapped around you like a warm blanket. Maybe it will be in the face of your child as you pray over them, or in the lyric of your favorite Christmas carol.  It could be in the kind word from a friend or loved one who sees you when you feel invisible and forgotten. Maybe you’ll see Him holding you up in a storm you are currently facing. Whatever it is, in every moment, Jesus is with us, miraculously breaking through the noise and chaos of our world to be our Prince of Peace, Wonderful Counselor, Everlasting Father and Strong God. 

    Advent is a season where we wait, expectantly for Jesus to come. We celebrate what God has done in the past, marvel at what He is doing now and wonder at what He will do in the future, thankful for His hand of love and provision at every turn. Look for Him in the details, see Him guiding your steps and holding your heart. He promises He will never leave us, that He is always with us. This advent season, may we cease our constant striving, be still and behold the Savior.

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  • Peace of Christ

    Peace.

    This evening after work, my husband discovered a leak in the very old hot water tank of our newly purchased home. So instead of enjoying the relaxing evening we’d planned, curling up on the couch with our kids and the latest Mandalorian episode, we raced the clock to pull up wet carpet and subfloor, buy and install a new copper pipe, cook supper, and get everyone fed before bedtime … all while trying to stay calm and be nice to each other.

    It almost seems laughable how frenzied we all became so quickly. It became increasingly difficult to give each other grace and margin for our disagreements and different priorities throughout the evening.

    Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”

    John 14:27 (ESV)

    I don’t know about you, but this promise from Jesus to his disciples sounds almost too good to be true. Especially right now. I’ve been a Jesus-follower for a number of years now, and I’ve heard this particular passage more times than I can count. But I have to be honest: after a year like 2020 I feel as if I’m reading these words for the first time. How can Jesus make such bold statements? Is His peace really so accessible, even today? How can we keep our hearts from being troubled and afraid of the pain and chaos around us? How do we gain access to God’s incredible gift of peace?

    Let’s look a bit further down in John 16 where Jesus is once again speaking to His disciples about peace:

    Jesus asked [His disciples], ‘Do you finally believe? But the time is coming – indeed it’s here now – when you will be scattered, each one going his own way, leaving me alone. Yet I am not alone because the Father is with me. I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”

    John 16:31-33 (ESV)

    This one hits hard. Jesus is describing His upcoming betrayal and abandonment from the very people he’s sitting next to – His best friends. I cannot imagine a worse scenario to foresee. If anyone had foreseen the tragedies of 2020, would they have been able to handle the grief and the apprehension? Would they have been able to hold the tension of gracious acceptance and brave fortitude? Jesus saw the future as God revealed it to him and He spoke of supernatural peace, even in the darkness of those events. What mattered most was not actually the events themselves, but more so Who was still present and offering peace in the midst of tragedy.

    Jesus confirmed over and over again throughout the Bible that life on earth will be hard, with trials and sorrows guaranteed to come our way. But the trials and the sorrows aren’t the end of the story because God is present through it all, and His promises stand firm.

    Let us open our hands this Advent season, to give Jesus our pain and sorrow and receive His supernatural gift of peace.

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  • Treasuring Immanuel

    And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “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. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” 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.”

    When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. Luke 2:8-19

    There have been times in my life when there’s been a plot twist so big that words fail me and I’m left to ponder in quiet stillness. This uncharacteristic calm is something that still surprises me, especially since I’m typically the kind of person that processes things out loud. But sometimes there are just events or circumstances in life that are so big, they are beyond our comprehension. In those moments, I find the only way to make sense of things is to sit with the Lord and let Him make sense of it for me. 

    So I’ll steal away to a quiet, comfy place in my house, or to a coffee shop where I can write and think and pray. Inevitably, as I sit with the Lord, I am overwhelmed with a feeling of safety and peace. He is my safe space, my refuge. He’ll never judge me for feeling like my thoughts are chaotic and scattered. He is patient with me and helps me lay out all the pieces of the puzzle so that I can begin to process and see where God might be at work. Without fail, He leads me gently to a place where, even if I can’t see the whole big picture, I can at least see Him. 

    I imagine Mary had several of those moments in her life where life took such a big turn that words just failed her and she had to just sit with the Lord and take it all in. I wonder if that’s what Mary was experiencing in Luke 2:19 when it says,  she “treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” 

    In this part of Mary’s story, she had just given birth to Jesus, in a barn, after days of traveling. She would have been beyond tired, and this was likely not the birth scenario she had imagined. Sitting in that barn, looking at this little baby who was fully God and fully human must have felt so surreal, so beyond comprehension. In these moments after Jesus’ birth, she would have been busy caring for her newborn, focused on his needs and on resting and healing herself.  Having strangers suddenly drop by may not quite have been what she envisioned. But when a group of shepherds show up at the stable after an angel of the Lord tells them of Jesus’ birth, Mary is gracious. Instead of shooing them away or recoiling at what may have felt like an intrusion, Mary is generous with her time, with her heart and with Jesus. 

    As the shepherds stood there amazed at the foot of the manger, they recognized that this baby was the Messiah. Maybe it was in that moment that Mary zoomed out and saw a bigger view of an even bigger picture. Perhaps it was then Mary realized that she and Joseph were not the only ones who believed that what God said would happen, was now finally happening. Immanuel, God with us, had arrived. 

    As the shepherds left to go tell everyone what they had seen and heard, Mary was left in the stillness, in a quiet moment of solace to ponder and marvel at all God had done, was doing and would do in the days to come. She knew they were on the edge of something big, and even though she couldn’t see the whole big picture, she could see God in the face of her newborn baby.

    In our lives we experience many twists and turns. We experience events when time seems to stand still, whether for better or worse. We too can sit with the Lord in safety and peace, and see his face in the midst of whatever we are going through. He was then, and is still, our hope, our comfort, our Immanuel, God with us. 

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  • Quiet Confidence

    As we enter into this advent season, my mind often turns to the women who played such an instrumental role in the Christmas story and what it must have been like to see the life of Jesus unfold firsthand. 

    Often we focus on Mary, the mother of Jesus, and understandably. A teenage, unwed virgin bearing the Son of God warrants noticing. But I’m also struck by her older cousin Elizabeth, who’s own miraculous story is intricately woven into the beautiful tapestry of the Christmas story.

    The name Elizabeth means “God is my oath” and it couldn’t be a better fit for her. In Luke 1:5-60, we learn that Elizabeth and her husband Zechariah were well along in years, but had no children. In Elizabeth’s day, a woman’s value was wrapped up in her ability to be able to bear children, and not just children, but a son to carry on the family name and her husband’s legacy. With each passing childless year, Elizabeth and Zechariah’s disappointment would have been profound. But where faith might falter for many, they instead leaned into the Lord’s faithfulness and continued to pray for a child. They continued to serve in the church and in their community. Elizabeth’s years of disappointment deepened rather than destroyed her faith. 

    Imagine her surprise when an angel of the Lord appeared to Zechariah to tell him that they would be parents to a son and they should name him John. And he wouldn’t be just any son, but great in the Lord’s eyes, a joy and a delight and one who would help prepare the hearts of all Israel for the coming Messiah. 

    I can only imagine the flood of emotion and wonder that must have rushed over Elizabeth in that moment. Even though she was well past her childbearing years, she would be having a son! In her joy, she praises God, saying “How kind the Lord is! He has taken away my disgrace of having no children.” (Luke 1:25 NLT)

    What I love about Elizabeth is that she is a picture of calm, and quiet confidence. She appears to be unruffled by life and seems to take everything in stride. No doubt she experienced all sorts of emotions and feelings, but when we see her described, she is not ruled by her emotion, but by her faith. That quiet confidence came from her relationship with God and her heart being open to the Holy Spirit guiding and helping her. Her confidence was in God, because He has always been faithful. And now she was literally living out a miracle in her own story. 

    Because Elizabeth knew God, she didn’t question how He was working. She was secure in who He was, therefore she was secure herself. This translated to many different areas of her life: how she dealt with disappointment, grief and possibly shame during her childless years, as well as how she interacted in her relationships. Establishing her identity and confidence in the Lord, positively impacted her relationship with her husband by helping solidify their faith as a couple. It rippled out into her extended family and to her friends and neighbors as they shared her joy when her baby was born (vs. 58). Her God-confidence influenced how she navigated the unexpected surprise of a baby in her later years and how she related to her younger cousin, Mary, when she came to visit with the news that she too was pregnant with a miracle.  

    This interaction between Mary & Elizabeth is perhaps my favorite part of Elizabeth’s story and such a beautiful example of God’s provision of community. As baby John leaps in her womb upon hearing Mary’s voice, Elizabeth immediately recognizes that Mary is the mother of the Lord. It makes sense that she would recognize God’s handiwork having just experienced a miracle of her own. The joy and wonder she and Mary share as they marvel at how the Lord is at work in their lives, and through the lives of their children is a treasure.

    What a gift God gave them in being able to relate so deeply to one another, even just to process together all that was happening and unfolding.  It is such a beautiful example of God’s perfect provision and timing. John was going to prepare the people’s hearts for Jesus’ arrival. Had he come when Elizabeth had first prayed for a child, too much time could have gone by between John’s teaching and Jesus’ arrival, and the hearts of the people may have again grown cold. Perhaps God was preparing Elizabeth all this time, knowing that Mary would need a caring and wise, mature mentor to help her navigate the difficulties that lay ahead in her own story. Whatever the reasons, Elizabeth’s quiet confidence and mature faith, no doubt blessed Mary more that we can even know. 

    As we reflect on the Christmas story and the anticipation of Christmas itself, I want to encourage you, in your own season of waiting. Maybe you are bringing your own persistent prayer ever before Him or you’re eagerly awaiting the day when the Lord returns and sets all things right again. Perhaps you are experiencing the chronic disappointment of life not going at all the way you had hoped or planned, or you’re reeling from a sudden, unexpected change you didn’t see coming (good or bad). Know that the same God who loved and provided for Elizabeth, loves you and will provide for you too. He sees you and knows your needs. As you lean on Him, you can trust wholeheartedly that He will cultivate in you a faith that leads to joy and security in any situation. Because of your relationship with God, you too can have quiet confidence that God is working powerfully in your circumstances, and that the story He is writing in your life will also be one of His perfect provision and profound love. 

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