For Such A Time As This

Maximizing everyday moments to glorify God

Immanuel – God With Us

“The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel – which means God with us.” Matthew 1:23

Did you know that from the end of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New Testament, 400 years passed without a single word from God? 400 years! That’s a really long time for complete silence. It’s hard to imagine what people must have thought. Did God die, was He angry, or did He just stop caring? Generations passed with nothing but silence.

And then it was time to reopen the communication lines. He was sending His one and only son to the Earth to take human form to become the gift of all gifts. A Savior for mankind.

He could have shaken the foundations of the earth to announce Jesus’ arrival. But, no. Instead it came in the form of the sweet, soft cry on a newborn. Incredible. Can you just imagine what that must have been like for Mary? As a mom, I know the overwhelming surge of emotion that came with giving birth. But, can you even fathom knowing that you are carrying the Son of God?

blue nativityAnd to know that the cry of her newborn baby was the announcement to the world that the silence was broken! Think about that for a bit – I have, and I still can’t seem to think anything but pure amazement. And the news was spread when the angel of the Lord said, “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:11) He was here. Our gift of salvation in the form of a tiny baby.

It makes me think about the gifts and blessings in life that I know I take for granted. Breath, our senses, quiet, the beauty and wonder that surround us every day. There are so many subtle, but incredible things that are so easily overlooked, we may not even think about them being gifts from God. God doesn’t have to loudly announce anything. Small, soft whispers are more than sufficient for the Creator of the Universe.

The soft cry of a baby. In a manger. In a stable filled with animals. Where no one could make room. The Savior of the earth. The One who created the stars, yet chose to come and live among us with one purpose. To save us.

As I think about Christmas, it’s easy to get caught up in all the mayhem of the season. Presents, decorating, baking, parties, cards, shopping and everything else. It seems everywhere we turn there are distractions the world is throwing at us. But the best gift is the one we cannot give. The one we don’t deserve. The one we can’t repay. The one we simply receive.

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God…” Ephesians 2:8

Jesus

He chose to come to be the Way. Without Him, we have no hope. Without Him, or future is dark. But, if we choose to accept and receive His gift of salvation, we are secure. There is hope.

Every year about this time, I try to get away and relax with Him. Even if it’s just for an hour or so, stepping out of the hustle and bustle of the commercialized Christmas activities keeps me focused on the true meaning: His unbelievable gift of salvation for all eternity. His choice to humble himself to a life of poverty and scorn, only to die a death He didn’t deserve and pay the price for all sins past, present and future. In order that we might spend all of eternity with Him…

…He loves us that much!

No store gift could ever compare.

And, He knows that there is nothing I say or do could earn His gift. I simply have to receive. Lay down my pride, my fears, my doubts, my control and anything else that my hands might be grasping on to hold. Empty them, so that I might receive the best gift ever.

Jesus.

This Christmas, I pray we all pause long enough to sit in absolute wonder at the greatest gift of all. Jesus in our midst. Jesus, the giver of the ultimate gift. Salvation.

Everything else, no matter how spectacular, pales in comparison and is simply pointing us to Him.

Merry Christmas.

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The Greatest Gift

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God…” Ephesians 2:8

A few years ago, I received an envelope. It was unmarked and addressed to me. I hesitated to open it, thinking it was probably junk mail or some unwarranted solicitation. It nearly went into the trash pile without a second glance.

But, something told me to go ahead and peek inside. When I did, I was amazed. It contained a touching note and a check for a significant amount. Anonymously. The person’s note spoke of being blessed. God had used something in my writing to touch her intimately. She knew of struggles my family was facing and wanted to help. Somehow, she found my address and acted upon that nudging…

…I was overwhelmed.

She gave a gift. A gift I could not repay or even personally thank her for giving. A gift I simply had to receive.

As I think about Christmas, it’s easy to get caught up in all the mayhem of the season. Presents, decorating, baking, parties, cards, shopping and everything else. It seems everywhere we turn there are distractions the world is throwing at us. But the best gift is the one we cannot give. The one we don’t deserve. The one we can’t repay. The one we simply receive.

Jesus.

blue nativityHe chose to come to be the Way. Without Him, we have no hope. Without Him, or future is dark. But, if we choose to accept and receive His gift of salvation, we are secure. There is hope.

Every year about this time, I try to get away and relax with Him. Even if it’s just for an hour or so, stepping out of the hustle and bustle of the commercialized Christmas activities keeps me focused on the true meaning: His unbelievable gift of salvation for all eternity. His choice to humble himself to a life of poverty and scorn, only to die a death He didn’t deserve and pay the price for all sins past, present and future. In order that we might spend all of eternity with Him…

…He loves us that much!

No store gift could ever compare.

And, He knows that there is nothing I say or do could earn His gift. I simply have to receive. Lay down my pride, my fears, my doubts, my control and anything else that my hands might be grasping on to hold. Empty them, so that I might receive the best gift ever.

Jesus.

At Christmastime, I pray we all pause long enough to sit in absolute wonder at the greatest gift of all. Jesus in our midst. Jesus, the giver of the ultimate gift. Salvation.

Everything else, no matter how spectacular, pales in comparison and is simply pointing us to Him.

Merry Christmas.

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A thankful heart

Thankful:  conscious of benefit received (source: Merriam-Webster Dictionary).

To express thankfulness requires us to realize that something has been done for our benefit, on our behalf.

Its Thanksgiving week, and our “thankfulness radar” is heightened. We pause to reflect on the many blessings in our lives. That is a good thing. It’s only right to consciously acknowledge those things in our lives for which we are grateful.

But, what about those things in life that are hard? Can we be thankful for them, too? I say yes. Not because it’s something I want or prefer, but because the Bible tells us to, for a reason.

thanksgiving_eph5-20“And give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Ephesians 5:20 (NLT)

Paul’s letter doesn’t say to give thanks for some things or for the good things.”  He tells us to give thanks for everything.

Being thankful, to me, means that my perspective is on a higher level than the everyday circumstances in my life. It means that I can see beyond what is happening in the moment and recognize that God is at work, using it, and all my circumstances for good in the end.

When I think back on the past few years, I can trace a path of God’s hand in my life. He was there through some really hard times. As I reflect on them, I can honestly thank Him for those times. Because not only did I grow closer to Him, I learned what it really means to be obedient. I learned that even in the good times, the only true, steady thing I can count on is Him.

It makes me begin to see the blessings in life like ornaments on a Christmas tree – they are nice additions; appreciated, cherished and enjoyable, but not necessary for the tree to survive. If I can begin to see the blessings in my life in that light, I will appreciate and cherish them, but not need them more than I need Jesus.

What I am most thankful for is that He chose to come to Earth,die in my place and rise again in order for me to have a place to call home for eternity, with Him. There’s nothing, no blessing or circumstance here that could compare with that.

And that, is, as the dictionary puts it, the “benefit received” of all benefits received.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Running for those who are not free to run. Yet.

“In the same way that you gave me a mission in the world, I give them a mission in the world.” (John 17:18 MSG)

It’s definitely not about me.

In the past two years, I’ve run a half-marathon and a 15K (9.3 miles). On Feb, 22, 2015, I will be again running a half-marathon.

To be completely honest, it isn’t about being a runner, or getting in shape, or even striving for the accomplishments. None of which are bad, they just aren’t my main focus.

I do it to give a voice to someone who doesn’t have one. At least not yet.

10517480_10203799564259936_6736354207024247493_nTraining for this race takes months. I live in Colorado, so I will be training during the coldest time of the year. None of that matters when I think about why I do this and who I do this for. It’s about raising awareness and money to help those trapped in the unspeakable condition of human slavery. You read that right. Slavery.

Today, there are more than 29 million slaves in the world. TODAY. That is more than at any time in history. Children, as young as 1 year-old forced into sexual slavery. It’s disgusting and sickening. When I heard stories of those trapped in the bondage of human trafficking, I couldn’t sit by doing nothing. I joined a group called Team Freedom. Together, we raise money for an organization called Hope for Justice, which helps with rescue and recovery for those trapped in slavery. With our help, they are making a difference.

While the stories of the bondage are mind-boggling and stomach-turning, the stories of recovery and redemption are like sunshine bursting through dark clouds, bright and stunning.

Jesus didn’t offer me salvation to sit with it on a shelf and wait to go to Heaven. He called me to go out into this broken world and make a difference. To get involved. To step outside my comfort zone and do something, anything, whatever it is that He leads me to do.

He made it abundantly clear this was a cause, a team that I needed to be involved with. Hearing the stories of those rescued broke my heart and left me sobbing. I knew I had to run. For them. For others. This is part of the work He has called me to do here on Earth. It is, to use Jesus’ words, my mission.

So, as I commit to training for the half-marathon in February 2015, I ask you to consider helping me reach my fundraising goal of $750. Anything helps and it’s an easy process. Just visit my fundraising site here.

God has given me this mission. And I trust that He will equip that mission by keeping me healthy for training and bringing in donations. Saying “yes” is the first step. I’ve said “yes,” will you?

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Then end is near

Friends, I don’t often share other teaching on here, but I feel compelled to do so with this one.

Unless you are living under a rock, you are well aware of the many conflicts, crises, natural disasters, medical outbreaks and other catastrophic situations in our world. The Bible makes it clear. There are signs of the end times and it certainly seems like we are in them.

This teaching paints an accurate and vivid picture of what Jesus taught about the end times. I urge you to watch and share.

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Where will you go?

“Do you think she’s in heaven?”

My daughter asked me this as we were talking about a relative who had passed away. I paused before replying. “I really don’t know,” I said, not liking my reply because it failed to assure her. But, I’ve promised my kids I would always be honest with them.

We went on to talk about some other relatives and friends, some still living, some not. There weren’t as many “heaven, for sure” answers as I would have liked.

That made me sad.

I believe part of my mission is to help point others to Jesus. From there, He helps them see their need for Him and that prompts the decision to accept His sacrifice, accept His payment for our sin and allow His grace to flow in our lives. That process (me excluded), is the only way it happens, friends.

I grew up believing I could be good enough to earn my way into heaven. That I could check off the number of times I went to church, did the right thing, helped others, said my rehearsed prayers, obeyed the customs, was a good person, etc. and that would give God the right scorecard for me when the time came for me to get into heaven. And, I also believed that if by some chance, that wasn’t enough, other people could “pray me in” after I died.

I was so wrong.

Which is why, when God got a grip on my heart, I KNEW that I had to change. Life as I knew it wasn’t ever going to be enough. And the best part is, it never HAD to be!

A decision. An acceptance. A prayer. That’s what it took. Simple as that, but more powerful than any action could ever be.

Jesus said it himself:

  • Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” John 3:3 (NIV)
  • “I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture.” John 10:9 (NIV)
  • “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.” Matthew 7:13 (NIV)

The apostle Paul summed it up this way:

  • “If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.” Romans 10:9-10 (NIV)
  • “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9

278-believedefMy friends, if there is even a shred of doubt in your mind about where you will spend eternity, I beg you to pray. Ask God to show up and I promise He will. He loves you more than you can ever imagine and there is nothing in your past that is beyond His grace and ability to forgive.

There is nothing, nothing in this world that is more important than settling where you will go after you die. Because after you die, it will be too late.

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Do you know that you know that you know?

“You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it.” Matthew 7:13-14

Just for giggles, I was answering one of those online quizzes to determine “my purpose.” One of the questions was “what is your view of religion?” It struck a chord in me.

I grew up in “religion.” As a kid, I was taught all the right actions and prayers and “performed” on command. But nothing ever really sunk into my soul. It was like I was acting a part in a play. The performance was good, but there was no lasting impact. I went in, I delivered my lines and I left.

When I left “religion” in my 30s, I went seeking. Honestly, I was looking to fill a void that I could tell existed, I just couldn’t put my finger on what it was. I can now. That void was a God-shaped hole in my heart. Something that no religion – no matter which one it was – could ever fill. Because it isn’t about religion with God, it’s about relationship.

God isn’t looking for actors. He wants a fully committed, all-in child. He wants someone to say “yes, Lord” to whatever leading He chooses. It’s not always comfortable – in fact, oftentimes it’s really uncomfortable. It isn’t easy – if it were, Jesus wouldn’t have told us the path to Heaven is through the narrow gate (Matthew 7:13). It isn’t for everyone – though God’s desire is for everyone to accept His gift of complete forgiveness and eternal salvation (1 Timothy 2:3-4) – but our free will means that we have a choice in the matter. Some will choose His way. Some won’t. Some think they have (perhaps those trapped in “religion?”).

For me, I needed to know that I know that I know where I am going when I die! The decision of total surrender to His will means I turn from my past, accept that His plans for my life are perhaps not what I would script, and live a life that is led and directed by Him. My job? Seek Him above all else. Love Him and serve others.

It’s a simple mission. But not one for the faint of heart. The challenges are many. The difference between facing challenges now, though, is that I don’t face them alone. I always know that He is with me, holding me up, giving me strength. I am learning more and more how to trust and tap into His strength versus my own.

It is no longer a part that I am playing. It is who I am and whose I am.

Do you know that you know that you know?

 

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Leaving things better

When the ground soaks up the falling rain and bears a good crop for the farmer, it has God’s blessing. But if a field bears thorns and thistles, it is useless. The farmer will soon condemn that field and burn it.” Hebrews 6:7-8

ImageIn this season of graduation, big changes are in store for those celebrating commencements, as well as their friends and family. My daughter “graduated” from fifth grade. As a send-off, her school held a ceremony and the principal gave a little speech to the kids. He challenged them to leave the world a better place. Bringing it down to their level, he asked them about going camping and finding a messy campsite. The answer to “how would you leave it better” was pretty simple.

What about our lives as Christians? What can we be doing that will leave the world, or at least the little slice of life that is within our sphere of influence, a better place? Is that even a conscious thought for us on a daily basis?

As Christians, we are called to “bear fruit.” If we accept Christ and live a life that honors Him by showing others how He has impacted us, loving others and helping where we can, our life will produce fruit. Living out our faith is what sets us apart. We make a difference in the lives of those whom we come in contact with. I want people to encounter Jesus when they are around me.

The writer of Hebrews vividly describes what happens to seeds that are sown and those that are ignored. Sown seeds grow into vibrant, healthy plants that produce bountiful crops. Seeds that are scattered and ignored are overtaken by weeds, choked of life and wither away.

Each of us is blessed with certain gifts (think: seeds). How we use those gifts is critical. If we use our gifts to sow into the lives of others, a “good crop” will result. If we squander our gifts, use them for selfish gain, or worse, don’t use them at all; then like weeds, we choke the life out of ourselves and are useless.

As the kids heard that message, and I hear the words of God, I pray, “Lord, let us use our gifts wisely and be Jesus with skin for those who so desperately need to experience you in this world.”

Leave the world a better place. It’s really a simple task.

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Good Friday

“We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Luke 23:41

ImageHanging on a cross. Dying a slow, agonizing death. A death he actually deserved. A criminal. He knew his punishment was just. But also, this man realized who was next to him. He knew not only was Jesus being crucified without just cause, but He was who He said He was, the Son of God. In that moment, he repented, asking Jesus to remember him in His kingdom. He knew the only way he had any hope was complete belief and trust in Jesus.

In every way, that criminal is me. A life that is sinful and wicked. Condemned to a death I fully deserve. A death leaving me separate and apart from God. Knowing that nothing in my own doing will save me from my fate.

But Jesus.

On that day, next to that criminal was the Son of God. The perfect and living sacrifice for my sins, and yours. He took upon the punishment and separation that every one of us deserves. He died a death that was unfathomable. The physical brutality of it was bad enough. But the anguish of being separated from our Heavenly Father was even more painful. And yet, He willingly accepted it as full and complete payment for the sins of those who would believe in Him.

This Good Friday, I am reflecting. I am pausing to concentrate on Jesus’ death because I need to remember just how enormous His sacrifice was. And, I need to remain thankful that He took my place. It is only by His grace and mercy that I am not condemned to the fate I deserve.

My response? Sheer awe and amazement. And obedience to Him. I pray that I submit to His will every day. In the same manner that Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, I pray. “…yet not my will be done, but yours.” (Luke 22:42)

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Be prepared

“So you, too, must keep watch! For you don’t know what day your Lord is coming. (Matthew 24:42 NLT)

The speaker from the American Red Cross was telling us about their response team’s involvement with a tremendous wildfire that happened near where I live. He told a story of one evacuee who was incredibly calm among the chaos.

Image

Photo credit: CBS 4 Denver

While everyone else panicked and grabbed random, sometimes unnecessary items when they were told to evacuate, this family calmly grabbed their essentials that were already placed in storage bins. They had prepared in advance, in the event the call came. Her demeanor was remarkably calm considering a raging fire was burning out of control within feet of her family’s home.

Her reason? She was ready.

It got me thinking.

We know Jesus is coming back. He told us so. He doesn’t lie, he cannot lie. So, because He said it, it’s going to happen. We can count on it. The question is, are we ready?

Jesus told us that his return would be swift. That two men would be in a field and only one would be taken (Matthew 24:40). Our job is to live each day as if it is the day of His return. I know that I am going to be with Him in Heaven. But, while I am still here on earth, I have a job to do.

I need to be living each day with the resolve to be ready for anything – whether it is an opportunity to witness or it’s the day I go to Heaven, I want to be prepared.

It isn’t an easy task.

Perhaps, we can take a lesson from the calm woman in the fire. She was evacuated. That meant, she was forced to leave her home, most of her belongings and probably a lot of stuff that any of us would deem important. Her perspective was such that she had peace. She knew that she had the important stuff with her. She had what really mattered.

When I go out each day, am I taking what matters or am I getting caught up in being concerned about keeping a grip on the stuff that really doesn’t matter? What’s important? My relationship with Him. My family. Loving others as He would have me do. Keeping my heart open to His leading. His Word.

If I have that, I have all I need.

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