Denying Pain Diminishes the Power of the Cross

To deny the presence of pain is to diminish the power of the cross.  

Dying, Jesus honored His mother’s courage by acknowledging her pain. She was losing the Son she loved and it hurt in a way that only mothers can comprehend.  He didn’t tell her that it would “be alright” or that “the ending is ultimately victorious”.

Instead, He looked upon her trembling figure and saw her broken heart.

Read the rest here: denial

It’s A Daily Struggle


I despise the platitude plastered across social media memes:  “Hard times either make you bitter or better”.

It makes it sound so simple.

As if all I have to do is make a single choice between two equally available paths.

Enduring deep pain and unchangeable circumstances requires continued commitment to face the fork in the road over and over, and to choose well each time.

Read the rest here: A Daily Struggle

My Thoughts Matter

So much of this battle has been fought in my mind.

Really, even more than in my heart.

Because you can’t argue with sad or shock or missing or disappointment.

But you can absolutely argue with hopelessness (there is nothing to live for), apathy (there is nothing to do) and distrust (there is no one who can help me).

Read the rest here: Thoughts Matter

New Mercies Every Morning


I love to read familiar verses in different translations or paraphrases.

It helps my heart hear what I might otherwise miss because familiarity DOES breed a form a contempt even when considering the Word of God.

Recently, on my way through verses on HOPE I copied out Lamentations 3: 19-26.

A couple of the verses are ones most of us have seen or heard often:

mercies new every morning

But back up a little bit, and read it in a different version ( the VOICE) and it takes on even greater meaning for those of us walking in the Valley of the Shadow of Death. 

Read the rest here: New Mercies 

Do You Ever Wonder, “Is God Punishing Me?”

I’ve heard it from more than one bereaved parent.  

I’ve thought it myself.  

“Is God punishing me?”  

Have I done something so terrible that it falls outside the grace and mercy of the God Who sent His Son and so I must pay for it with my own child?

Read the rest here: Is God Punishing Me?

TobyMac and Child Loss

I am always devastated when another parent discovers the heartache of child loss.

They are forced to join a club no one wants to join.

But I’m grateful when that parent has a platform because of fame, fortune or circumstances and decides to draw attention to the truth of this painful path.

The singer Toby Mac recently lost his son and has chosen to do just that. He wrote a song that puts words to the sorrow, words to the struggle and vividly shares the heart of a bereaved parent.

Read the rest here: TobyMac, “21 Years” and Child Loss

Empty Hearts Can Be Filled

I don’t know about you but I’ve never thought of hopelessness as something I wanted on my resume.

Hopelessness is typically tossed into the pile of “negative” feelings we all acknowledge but don’t want to experience and if we do, we try to minimize, rationalize or disguise them.

If I admit to it at all, I tend to look downward, whisper quickly and pray that no one takes much notice because it feels shameful.

But maybe hopelessness is the first step to truly celebrating Christmas.

Read the rest here: Qualified by Hopelessness: An Empty Heart Can Be Filled

Advent: Glory, Mercy and Truth

If you want to truly appreciate the New Testament you’ve got to begin in the Old.

Jesus is written on every page, revealed in increasing measure in every story.

From Genesis to Revelation, God the Father displays His purpose, plan and passion for His children.

The ultimate unveiling is Immanuel-God with us.

And so the Living Expression became a man and lived among us! And we gazed upon the splendor of his glory, the glory of the One and Only who came from the Father overflowing with tender mercy and truth!

John 1:14 TPT

Ever since Eden, humankind was banished from unafraid, uninhibited communion with our Maker.

Sin separated us from His holy Presence.

Pin on Ron DiCianni Artwork
The Fall by Ron DiCianni

When the Lord brought Israel out of Egypt He led them with a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. He had Moses construct a Tabernacle for His Presence to rest in the midst of His people but they still had to remain afar off.

Only Moses could come near. And when he left the Tabernacle, he wore a veil to hide God’s glory reflected on his own face.

Moses Face Shining: When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, the skin  of his face was shining, and they were afraid to come near… | Exodus,  Exodus 34, Exodus 33

And then came Jesus-His perfect life, sacrificial death and victorious resurrection-removed the veil.

He revealed God’s glory and holiness.

But He also revealed God’s mercy, grace and truth.

Hebrews 1:3 — Berea Project

The Law teaches hearts that no one can measure up.

Christ teaches that because He fulfilled the Law, if we trust His finished work we don’t have to.

Our God who breathes stars, He breathed Bethlehem’s Star, then took on lungs and breathed in stable air.

Our God who formed and delivered the heavens, He waited patient like an embryo in a womb and delivered Himself to free all humanity. Our God who cradles whole galaxies in the palm of His hand, whom highest heavens cannot contain, He folds Himself into our skin and He curls His newborn fist in the cradle of a barn feed trough — and we are saved from ourselves.

We are saved from our hopelessness — because God came with infant fists and opened wide His hand to take the nail sharp edge of our sins.

We are saved from our pain — because God pierced the dark and came to the pinpoint of us in the universe and He took the nails.

We are saved from our loneliness — because God is love that can’t stand to leave us by ourselves, to ourselves. The entire cosmos sings it leading up to Christmas Eve:

We are not alone.

We are a pinpoint in the universe that is now nailed to eternity because of the wood of a manger, of a Tree, of a crowning wreath of thorns.

Ann Voskamp

QUESTIONS:

  • Before they sinned, Adam and Eve enjoyed open fellowship with God. They walked together in the cool of the evening. But disobedience and distrust ruined it. Jesus paid the price to restore fellowship. Have you thought recently about the great value of that gift? How have you felt His Presence this Advent season?
  • Jesus took on flesh and walked among men as the living, breathing embodiment of God. He wasn’t primarily an example (although He was the perfect example). He came to be a sacrifice. God’s holiness is beautiful but frightening. His grace and mercy are beautiful and inviting. How have you experienced the grace and mercy of the Lord?
  • Do you ever feel alone, abandoned or forgotten? Does it help your heart to meditate on Immanuel-God with us?

PRAYER:

Father God,

You could have started over and abandoned us. But your love compelled You to reach out and reach down to make a way.

Jesus is that Way.

He came to reveal more than your glory and holiness. He came to reveal your mercy, grace and truth.

He showed us your heart.

It’s a heart of love and good intentions toward me. Help me trust that heart when I can’t trace your hand. Give me assurance of your Presence no matter how dark the night or desperate the circumstance.

Amen

Advent: Ponder and Praise

The nativity story is full of contrasts.

Old Elizabeth, young Mary-both bearing sons. Zechariah’s doubts, a young maid’s submission-he was supposed to understand God through study and practice, she was the ignorant one yet trusted.

Priests within a Sabbath walk from the manger slept on unaware that God had broken forth into their world while outcast shepherds got a personalized and most glorious birth announcement writ large across the sky.

Perhaps the most poignant contrast of all is a tired young mother pondering quietly what this might mean for her and her newborn Son and shepherds telling everyone they meet what they saw and praising God for giving them the privilege.

Mary, too, pondered all of these events, treasuring each memory in her heart.

20 The shepherds returned to their flocks, praising God for all they had seen and heard, and they glorified God for the way the experience had unfolded just as the heavenly messenger had predicted.

Luke 2:19-20 VOICE

My heart beats with Mary’s. She knew and understood part of what was going on but had no way to anticipate or comprehend precisely what it meant to be the mother of Messiah.

She pondered the shepherds’ visit and their story.

I’ve pondered too.

“Ponder” means “think about (something) carefully, especially before making a decision or reaching a conclusion.” (Oxford Dictionary, online).

What we don't know about Mary and Joseph - Under His Wings

When Dominic was killed I dragged everything I thought I knew about God and how He worked in the world into the glaring light of child loss. I examined and turned it over. I compared my notions with Scripture and with my ongoing experience.

I was forced to make a decision.

I had to reach a conclusion: Was God who He said He was or was this all a made up, feel good story I told myself? Is the Bible true? Is Jesus real? Was His sacrifice sufficient and does it guarantee eternal life?

After long and careful thought I decided that my Heavenly Father was faithful, His character is trustworthy, every promise He made is “yes” and “amen” in Christ.

I imagine Mary had many moments when she wondered what God was doing in and through her. I suspect she had her doubts.

I think often of the ultimate pain and horror she endured at the crucifixion.

But she held on.

She believed.

And the Lord called her blessed.

I am holding on to truth and hope with both hands.

Sometimes my faith wears thin.

But I know, know, know that my Father is trustworthy.

QUESTIONS:

  • We really don’t know how much Mary understood about what was happening in and through her. Gabriel visited her, yes, but even his message wasn’t comprehensive. Have you ever thought about what or how much Mary knew? Does it give you courage to trust God as things unfold in your own life?
  • How has child loss impacted your faith?
  • The shepherds praised the Lord because everything the angel told them was accurate. Has your personal experience affirmed the truth of Scripture?
  • Can you find reasons to praise the Lord even here, even now?

PRAYER:

Father God,

You are the Almighty God, the King of the Universe, Creator and Sustainer of life. You know the end from the beginning. You are working all things for my ultimate good and for Your glory.

But it’s hard to walk along a path when I can’t see far ahead. Sometimes it’s a struggle to trust and not be afraid. I do ponder things in my heart. I want to make sense of what You are doing (at least what I think You are doing) and what I’m feeling.

Help me lean into your truth, to trust your heart even when I can’t trace your hand. I believe, help my unbelief!

Thank You for every evidence that points my heart in the right direction. Thank You for showing me more of yourself. Teach me to praise You for all You are and not only all You do.

Amen

Advent: Unlikely Messengers

Bethlehem isn’t far at all from Jerusalem if you measure the distance in miles.

But it was a world apart if you measure the difference in circumstance.

Like our world today, there was a huge gap between the richest of the rich (King Herod and his cronies, the religious elite) and the poorest of the poor (Mary, Joseph, shepherds and others like them).

Hearts full to overflowing with pride, self-reliance, love of power and money can’t find room for a message that suggests they might need saving.

Empty hearts, hopeless hearts, worn, weary and desperate hearts are hungry to hear that help is on the way.

Maybe that’s why God sent a most spectacular birth announcement to shepherds who were considered the lowest of the low.

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. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

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

15 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.”

16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.

Luke 2:8-18 NIV

If you do a little digging you will discover that large flocks were kept in Bethlehem to facilitate worship at the Temple in Jerusalem. Since many of the faithful came from quite a distance, instead of bringing a sacrifice they would purchase a suitable animal once they made the trek.

But shepherds rarely got to mix and mingle at the Temple because they were stinky and dirty. It was tough to try to clean up without running water and washing machines. They smelled of sheep, goats and smoke. Not a welcome addition to worshiping crowds.

Yet God deemed these lowly, (probably) uneducated folks worthy of the most spectacular display of His approval and the dawn of a new age of grace. The outcasts became the “in” crowd.

The first messengers of the Good News weren’t priests or royalty, they were regular people.

I know many days I wonder if plodding along in my everyday duties makes a whit of difference in the world. I tire of routine and repeated, ordinary tasks.

But in the Kingdom there is no such thing as meaningless work or unrewarded obedience.

The shepherds were perfectly positioned to receive God’s message and to deliver it to a waiting world.

God has placed me right here right now for His purposes.

I’m not responsible for results.

I’m only responsible for waiting patiently for His direction.

QUESTIONS:

  • When you’ve heard the Christmas story over and over it’s easy to miss historical context and the significance of certain details. But Luke specifically set out to give an account of the birth, life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus that revealed His deity and God’s purposes. Have you ever thought about how odd it was that shepherds got such special attention and treatment from Almighty God?
  • The shepherds apparently discussed what they had seen and heard among themselves. Can you imagine what that sounded like? Do you think you would have second guessed the experience if you had been there? Why or why not?
  • Once they saw the Baby they could not contain themselves. Do you remember the joy of salvation when (perhaps) you were compelled to tell everyone the Good News of Jesus? Have you lost that urgency? If you have, how might you regain it?
  • People were amazed at the shepherds’ message. I imagine it was partly due to the nature of the story and partly due to the ones who were telling it. Have you ever experienced a time when you were certain the message was from God but the messenger didn’t fit your idea of what he or she should look like? Did you dismiss the message or look past your preconceived notions?

PRAYER:

Father God,

You are no respecter of persons. All are in need of your mercy and grace. You reach out and reach down and reach across divides and prejudices and preconceived notions of who should be “in” and who should be “out”.

Salvation is available to every single heart who chooses to believe in the finished work of Christ. Sometimes I can draw circles around who I think is deserving and who is not. When people don’t look like me, talk like me or think like me I can look down my nose at them and expect You to do the same.

Rescue me from the prison of prejudice!

It’s the worn out and weary who long for a Savior. It’s the breathless and broken who need fresh wind and healing hope.

Thank You for opening my eyes to the truth of the Good News. Help me hold onto the joy of my salvation. May I feel the same urgency as those shepherds long ago to run first to Jesus and then to share Him with everyone I meet.

Amen