Missing the Mark

Instant replay caused him to instantly recoil.

Ah, the director’s right! In that scene, he’d missed his mark. The taped “X” seemed to suddenly glow as he felt his face flush.

How could this have happened?

He knew. Although he’d rehearsed it a dozen times, he’d taken his eyes off the mark. He’d assumed his mind knew where to lead his feet. He was so confident, he never even looked.

Now the director needed to reshoot the entire scene, all because the lead actor missed his mark. He knew that the end result of not being completely on his mark meant the cameras couldn’t catch him in complete focus. The strength of the story might be lost. Not only the story lines blur but the actors themselves are often unseen or distorted.

Living as a Christian can be difficult, especially when we take our eyes off the mark: Jesus.  Lines of right and wrong can become blurred or distorted when we take our eyes off Christ. Hebrews 12:2 reminds us how to live life, with our eyes fixed on Jesus.

Thankfully God doesn’t record our errors so adamantly and rematch our actions so blatantly.  Unlike a TV director, He doesn’t often employ the instant replay either.

Instead of lashing out at His children He redeems what they’ve done.

Romans 8:28 promises us, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to 
His purpose.” (NIV)

He doesn’t need us to redo decisions in life to make everything turn out right. While we need to carefully consider our choices and fully expect consequences when we choose folly, God promises to weave good into everything, even the not-so-good things.

He doesn’t highlight when we missed the mark. Instead, He extends mercy and grace, and yes, even blesses our mess. He uses our choices to create a marvelous testimony that He indeed is Lord of all.

In Need of a Silent Night

Final exams.

Dinner to make.

Children to bathe.

Dog chewed the steak.

Laundry to fold.

Papers to grade.

Lord why did I think I could do all this today?

Floor is filthy.

Classroom’s a mess.

Lab exploded.

Broken glass creates a mess.

Christmas décor blew away.

My Olaf popped on a thorn in the fray.

The last child tucked in; dog collapsed by the fire;

I knew I better sit down or retire.

My heart’s heavy, my mind just wouldn’t quit.

It was then I realized I needed way more than St. Nick.

I needed peace.

I needed slumber.

I needed quiet, unencumbered.

I needed more warm moments.

I needed less cold thoughts.

I simply needed something that just couldn’t be bought.

This time of year it’s easy to become overwhelmed. But somehow, I don’t think Jesus would desire for us to feel frantic celebrating the birth of the Prince of Peace.

Jesus came to give us life and give it abundantly.

Today.

Everyday.

It’s we who overfill the moments.

It’s we who try to create grandiose nostalgia when the most meaningful memory would be the moment of comprehension of our greatest gift.

God has blessed us with the gifts of life on earth, and of eternal life through His Son.

God is blessing us with the gift of time of today. He lets us choose how we will spend todays’ hours and minutes. What will we choose?

Although they are pretty, the packages do not contain the gift of happiness.

Although they may fill (and overfill!) our stomachs, the delicious traditions of our family feasts will not quench our heart’s desires to know and be known by our Creator.

Although the parties and festivities are fun-filled social events we don’t want to miss, they could never take the place of that one deep relationship Jesus desires to have with each of us.

Maybe you’re like me and must force yourself to just sit and be still. Even if it’s late, I hope you can take the time to truly rest in a dimly lit room, enjoying the unencumbered, unimaginable joy of Christmas as God intended: a sincere celebration of His great love for each of us.

I pray this holiday season we can each and all discover the true joy of Christmas.

 

No worries?

“Daddy, do we have enough money?” asked the sweet seven-year-old when she heard of her father’s job loss.

“You don’t need to worry about that; Daddy will take care of everything,” he replied, rubbing her shoulder. Giving him a quick hug, she bounded off to play with her dolls.

When was the last time your worries and  concerns were so easily relieved? Once anxiety grips us, it can be difficult to disentangle its claws from our minds and our hearts.

God tells us nothing should make us anxious. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” Philippians 4:6, NIV

Instead, He’s telling us what to do with our concerns: Pray about them. Bring them to God joyfully and with thanksgiving.

When a burden of the heart disturbs our sleep, disrupts our days and consumes our consciousness, we honestly don’t need to deal with it alone.

We should give it to God. Joyfully give it to Him. With thanksgiving give it to Him. Because He will take care of it and it does not need to burden us any longer.

Sometimes, we are like the little girl worrying about her family’s financial plight. Sometimes, we take on things that are just way beyond us. Our heavenly Father has it all worked out. Will we relinquish it to Him?

He wants us to allow Him to handle it, and for us to run off and do whatever He’s given us to do. He doesn’t want us burdened and consumed with His work.

When we allow Him to lift our burdens, we experience first-hand His promise of the next verse, “And the Peace of God, which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

Unlike what the world has offered us, we are promised peace.

Why would we willingly trade His peace for anxiety?

A Step Further: Why would we willingly trade His peace for anxiety? If you are like me, there are times it’s just hard to let go. I carry something to Him, then take it back seconds later. I bring it to Him again, and later my mind works overtime, trying to figure it out.

God knows us. He knows our minds are willing, yet our flesh is weak. He knows when we want to give something over to Him, yet, seemingly can’t.

He also provided for that.

When we feel like we can’t let go, He is willing to meet us there and supply what we need. Whatever it is we need, right there in that moment, He will supply it, if we ask. And, He’ll meet us in the next moment, and the next. Eventually it won’t be so difficult.

If you find Philippians 4:6-7 challenging to live, please feel free to ask for prayer in the comments below. My team and I will lift you in prayer.

Committed To Christ

“I truly believe in Jesus, I just want to wait to be baptized,” she quietly confided, “I want to make sure I understand what I’m promising.”

I stared in amazement at this twelve-year-old girl.

I knew she believed. She truly studied her own Bible and her life mirrored a heart on fire for Christ.

At twelve, she “got it.” Faith is not a feeling.

Faith is a commitment.

She knew Jesus was committed to her. Now, she wanted a chance to read through the Bible so she knew how she should commit herself to Him.

Luke 14:33 instructs each of us to give forethought to our faith. “In the same way, therefore, every one of you who does not say goodbye to all his possessions cannot be My disciple.”

That does not necessarily mean we need to literally get rid of all our material possessions, although we could. It does mean nothing else can occupy the greatest portion of our heart and mind.

Christ comes first. Always.

Is that easy?

No.

But with Christ, it’s doable.

As that sweet girl learned many years ago, before her baptism, it is possible to investigate and understand what Jesus wants from us.

He wants us to give some forethought to our commitment to Him.

And He wants us to realize we can count on Him to help us stay committed to our faith throughout our lifetime.

 

A New Attitude

I closed my computer and sighed. I was so tired. Why Lord, did You call me to this?

I enjoy most things I do every day. Last year, I launched a new career. It was a challenge. But the biggest part of the challenge was the fact I had to go back to school for a Master’s degree.

Every ounce of my being fought the idea of returning to school. I had thanked the Lord that stage of life was over decades ago.

Now, I’m back to the books as I encourage my own daughter in her freshman year of college.

I’ll be the first to admit my attitude stunk. But, I wasn’t doing anything about it.

Until I read Philippians 2:14 one early Saturday morning. “Do everything without grumbling and arguing.”  A paraphrase might have read, “Cheerfully do the work I have given you.”

Ouch.

I really hadn’t done that at all. My family knew I wasn’t happy. My colleagues knew I wasn’t happy. My friends definitely knew I wasn’t happy.

And I’m sure the Lord hadn’t missed any of this at all.

Every time I grumbled, I was arguing with God over His assignment for me. It was as if I were saying, “You don’t know what You’re doing!” 

I’d be willing to bet He wasn’t happy with my attitude.

I’m still not happy every moment outside work seems stolen for school. But I’m working on only allowing positive things to escape my lips concerning my courses.

Recently, I registered for next semester. By May, I should be halfway to my Master’s degree. (I had to really work to push out the part of me which inwardly moaned, only half-way!)

Sometimes God calls us to scenarios we would rather skip, and problems we don’t wish to ponder.

But, each does serve a purpose. We need to trust Him. We also need to glorify Him in whatever we’re doing. Not only in action, but in our choice of words as well.

I’m slowly learning that means doing what He’s called me to do without grumbling or arguing.

I may have felt too old to be in school, but God is teaching me He’s not done with me yet!

Expecting Great Things

Do you expect great things from yourself?

Many of us don’t.

We might assume the great callings go to the super talented, super intelligent, and super positive people. Surely I don’t have a great calling on my life.

Ephesians 2:10 tells us that idea is just plain wrong. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. NIV

We are God’s masterpieces. He created us as beautiful beings with a precious purpose. And, He created us to do good works. He calls us to do good things.

We each have a distinct, unique purpose. God doesn’t need anything from us. But if we fulfill our calling, He will bless our work, and in turn, bless those around us.

The maker of the pacemaker, which keeps a human heart beating and working properly to prolong and preserve life, was probably super excited when he created the initial model. Imagine how he might have handled it ever so gently, turning it carefully in his hands.

Now imagine when he witnessed it working inside a patient. When that pacemaker did what it was created to do. It preserved life. It enhanced the quality of life for that patient and that patient’s family. Can you imagine the celebration?

I’m sure the excitement the pacemaker developer experienced is just a tip of the iceberg of the joy God expresses over His children who are using this gifts He planted inside each one of us. When we do whatever He created us to, we are glorifying the one who created the masterpiece of you and me.

Hundreds of thousands of patients each year receive a pacemaker – and they also receive a new lease on life. Countless families can enjoy more holidays, more everydays, because of the pacemaker doing what it was created to do.

What if you and I stopped assuming someone else could do our calling better? What if we stopped assuming ‘I am not talented enough?’ What if we simply did what we were created to do?

Imagine the beauty that would overtake the world. Maybe, just maybe, our headlines would be positive, pretty messages filled with hope and love. We would have much more to celebrate on holidays, on everyday. We would know that deep down satisfaction of doing what God created us to do. What if…?

I Can Do!

Once there were two Rottweiler puppies. The first, Tipper, was a fierce protector.

When she was all of twelve weeks old, she firmly planted herself between her human mom and a large 250 pound man who had the audacity to step into the yard. Her tiny stance spoke volumes, “To get to her, you gotta get through me first.”

We imagined her parents had repeatedly whispered in her ear, “You’re a big, strong Rottie. You never need to be afraid.”

The other puppy, Minna, was timid and shy, especially around other dogs. She once met a ten pound dog on the trail near our home and all fifty pounds of her quaked behind her people’s legs.

When she would visit the local doggie day care, we would see her on the screen of the ‘little dog’ play yard. Even through she was by then eighty pounds, she played with the “under forty” crowd!

We imagined her parents must have whispered, “It’s a big, scary world out there. Be very careful,  baby.”

Our Heavenly Father lovingly whispers something to us: His promise from Philippians 4:13. “I can do everything through Christ who gives me strength.” (NLT)

I.

I can do everything through Christ. Not just my pastor. Not just a spiritual mentor or someone whose past is pretty. I.

Can do. There’s no might in there. I can do everything through Christ who gives me strength.

Everything. Not just some things. Not just most things. Everything. Even the hard things. Even the things that look impossible. If He’s called us to it, He’ll provide exactly what we need to do it.

Through Christ. This power comes through Christ, not from me, through my abilities or through my talents. I can’t get there relying on me. I must rely on Christ.

We must listen for the promises of our Heavenly Father, even above the noise of this world. Even above the shouts inside our minds.

What does our Heavenly Father whisper to His beloved child? “You can do everything through Christ who gives you strength.”

Even in this big, scary world.

Can I Forgive Me?

“I tell you, in the same way, there is joy in the presence of God’s angels over one sinner who repents.” Luke 15:10

 

She sadly shook her head, “Yes, I would love to help with that ministry! But with my past… I just can’t.” She had a colorful past, yet she had repented and today pursued Jesus with unparalleled passion.

Her past was in the past. She no longer practiced those former activities. God had forgiven her. God had redeemed her. God had redeemed her past.

Had she forgiven herself?

Could she see her redemption?

Jesus told three parables in Luke 15 about the lost being found. What happened when something lost was found?

Great rejoicing!

Not great lamenting over how long something was lost, or how it got lost, or even all the time “wasted” waiting for the lost item to turn up.

Instead, great celebration ensued; pure and simple celebration!

Maybe your past is a story you’d much rather die than retell. As much as you and I might wish to rewrite history, we simply can’t.

But Jesus reassures us that our stories aren’t completed yet. He assures us, “There is joy in the presence of God’s angels over one sinner who repents.”

Joy!

In the presence of God’s angels.

Just because one repents.

Joy!

Not condemnation.

Not lamentation.

Joy!

Since He forgives and adores us, He lovingly looks upon us with great joy. We should share that joy.

“I tell you, in the same way, there is joy in the presence of God’s angels over one sinner who repents.” Luke 15:10

 

She sadly shook her head, “Yes, I would love to help with that ministry! But with my past… I just can’t.” She had a colorful past, yet she had repented and today pursued Jesus with unparalleled passion.

Her past was in the past. She no longer practiced those former activities. God had forgiven her. God had redeemed her. God had redeemed her past.

Had she forgiven herself?

Could she see her redemption?

Jesus told three parables in Luke 15 about the lost being found. What happened when something lost was found?

Great rejoicing!

Not great lamenting over how long something was lost, or how it got lost, or even all the time “wasted” waiting for the lost item to turn up.

Instead, great celebration ensued; pure and simple celebration!

Maybe your past is a story you’d much rather die than retell. As much as you and I might wish to rewrite history, we simply can’t.

But Jesus reassures us that our stories aren’t completed yet. He assures us, “There is joy in the presence of God’s angels over one sinner who repents.”

Joy!

In the presence of God’s angels.

Just because one repents.

Joy!

Not condemnation.

Not lamentation.

Joy!

Since He forgives and adores us, He lovingly looks upon us with great joy. We should share that joy.

He wants us to joyfully acknowledge His forgiveness and rejoice that He does make all things new, indeed!

He wants us to joyfully acknowledge His forgiveness and rejoice that He does make all things new, indeed!

Prepare Before Battle

“I signed up for a marathon in six months, I’ve got to get training,” Sami said as she pulled her hair from her face, “but it’s been a long day and I feel so tired.” She glanced around at the mess in her room. “I’ll start tomorrow.”

Tomorrow was born a crazy day. The alarm somehow didn’t go off early, as she’s planned. Rushing out the door, her thoughts rushed ahead to the evening, I will make time then.

That evening, her workload stacker higher and she knew she couldn’t possibly take the time.

By the end of the next week she had not started. Nor by the end of the next month.

Time for the marathon came and Sami thought, “Well, it’s for a good cause, even if I only go partway, I’m doing something.”

Three miles in she was out of breath and in significant pain. It was time to quit.

Why did I never make the time to train?

Maybe like me, you can relate to Sami. I meant to start this good habit. I knew I would reap many benefits, but somehow I just never found the time.

I have done that with Bible Study. Yes, I want to know God better. Yes, I want to know what His word says. Why can it be a hard habit to start? Why does it seem that everything goes wrong, preventing me from having extra time, extra energy, extra determination needed?

“I can all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13 promises.  Did that promise only things which required physical strength? Emotional strength? Spiritual strength? Organizational strength?

It says all things…

All things.

Christ knew what it was to walk this earth, to live with earthly demands. He also knew what was important. He called on God’s strength to steal away and spend time with His heavenly Father.

We need to follow His example. At some point in this life, we very well may be called to run a spiritual marathon. That marathon jut might be the toughest situation we never could have imagined, never could have possibly prepared for. Yet, by getting to know God and His word in a regular routine, when called upon to run that marathon, we just might be ready if we start today.

Awaiting An Invitation

Miranda angrily shook her head, eyes flashing as she read the text message on her phone.

Are you kidding me? she thought. God doesn’t want me now.

She knew her friend on the other side of the words meant well, but really, she’d turned her back on God a long time ago, a lifetime ago, it felt to this young woman.

Ding.

Another text notification. Glancing at her phone, she sighed, Will she never give up?

Read Nehemiah 9:27b- 31.

Really? She stared at the phone remembering the warm hugs and constant encouragement; she felt her heart soften. Looking online for a Bible site, she found Nehemiah.

In their time of distress they cried out to You, and You heard from heaven. In Your abundant compassion You gave them deliverers, who rescued them from the powers of their enemies.”

She knew enough bible history to recall who these rescued people were: the Israelites. They had a history of walking with God, turning from God, then repenting and walking with God, then turning from God.

A pattern she knew well from personal experience.

When they cried out to You again, You heard from heaven and rescued them many times in Your compassion.” (v 28b)

She read through verse 29, key concepts leaping from the screen: You warned, they acted arrogantly, disobediently. They sinned, resisted You stubbornly.

You were patient.

Your spirit warned, but they would not listen.

Verse 31 almost stopped her heart: “However, in Your abundant compassion, You did not destroy them or abandon them, for You are a gracious and compassionate God

He was waiting for an invitation, Miranda thought, tears blurring the words on the screen.

God was patiently waiting for an invitation back into their lives. No matter what idols they built, or sought, or worshipped.

Her heart quaked at the next thought. Could He be waiting for me to invite Him back into my life?

That overwhelmed her as she recounted how she’d lived life after kicking God out.

He can’t care for me now, she thought, almost digesting the lie the Enemy fed her.

But Truth won out. She had been wrong, but He was waiting. It was time to make things right.

Reflections:

How have I turned away, believing the lie that God wouldn’t want me now?

 

What do I need to do to make amends?

 

Prayer: Dear Heavenly Father, How easily I can get sidetracked, focusing on others things, other relationships, other priorities, other than You. When that distance builds and it’s been a while since I was close to You, it seems easy to believe You wouldn’t want me. Remind me of Your truth. You always want me. No matter what. My choices may separate us, but just as a loving Father, You are waiting for my return with open arms. Thank You for being such a good father, In Jesus’ name, Amen.