The Gifts of God

At Christmas time we focus a lot on gifts. Making gift lists, buying gifts, wrapping gifts, receiving gifts. I wonder if you’ve ever had a time when you opened a gift you didn’t want. As you pull it out of the box you’re thinking, I don’t like this color or pattern. But the person who gave it to you is watching so you put on a fake smile and say “thank you so much …” Meanwhile you’re still looking for a gift receipt. At least you could exchange it…? But no. Your only option is to accept the gift. 

Have you ever had to accept something in life you didn’t want? Illness, job loss, miscarriage, infertility, divorce, death of a loved one.

About 9 years ago my husband and I were expecting our first child. But halfway through the pregnancy something was wrong. I was rushed to the hospital where the doctors told me I had to deliver the baby that night, but that he wouldn’t survive. A range of emotions and thoughts filled our minds over the next few hours as we waited for labor to intensify. But our main focus was, we didn’t have a name for this baby. What do you name a baby who will go straight to heaven?

There was one bible story that kept coming to mind. It’s the story of Moses leading the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt. They had miraculously left Egypt, survived the plagues that God sent to Pharaoh and the people, they crossed the Red Sea on dry ground as God parted the waters.. and now they’re in the desert. They were on their way to the Promised Land. It’s called “the Promised Land” because God promised to give this land to the Israelites. That simple.

Moses decides to send 12 men into the promised land to spy on it, to check it out and report back to the people what they find. These 12 men come back and say the land is amazing. It’s exactly how God promised – flowing with milk and honey, filled with the best fruits. BUT 10 men said there are giants living there. And we can’t beat them. The other 2 men said yes there are giants, but God is giving us this land. Let’s go! Those two men were Joshua and Caleb. Unfortunately the Israelites caved in to the fear that the 10 men had. They were afraid of the giants. They didn’t believe God’s promise. They doubted God. And so God said that those people would not see the promised land. The entire generation would die, except for Joshua and Caleb.

They roamed around the wilderness, the desert for 40 years, waiting for that generation of Israelites to die. Then Joshua and Caleb, now in their 80s would lead the people into the promised land.

What does this story have to do with a baby? I knew there were going to be “giants” in my future. There would be fears about having children, trying to get pregnant again, losing more children. I did not want to live in fear.  So I said to my husband, how about we name the baby Joshua? He said there was a Josh in kindergarten who punched him in the nose. So how about Caleb?

Naming our baby Caleb was a reminder – is still a reminder – to me to not give in to fear and worry, but to stand firm in God’s promises. God didn’t promise me a baby. But there are 3 promises I want to share with you today that we can depend on 3 GIFTS God gives us. 

First, God promises to be with us. Immanuel – God is with us. Hebrews 13:5 God says “Never will I leave you. Never will I forsake you.” When a friend betrays you, when those who are supposed to love us walk away, when the world leaves us lonely, God will NEVER leave us. When you are walking through sadness, grief, despair, God is with you.  Matthew. 1:23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a Son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means God with us.”

Second, God promises to give us PEACE. We live in a world where anxiety is a common word, a common ailment. You can get a prescription to fix your anxiety. And certainly there are a lot of things we can be worried and anxious about, IF we didn’t have God to call out to. Philippians 4 tells us that PRAYER is the antidote to worry. Verses 6-8 says “Do not be ANXIOUS about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Can you even imagine your heart and mind being so guarded, so protected by peace in Christ, that no worries, no anxious thoughts can even get in?!

The peace from God doesn’t make sense. Not by any worldly standards. When Caleb died, I was grieving deeply. Yet I had peace. When I got pregnant again months later, I should’ve been afraid and worried. But I wasn’t. God had given me peace that is beyond our understanding. He wants us to live in that peace. When we bring our worries to Him and we pray, He will give us Peace.

Third gift God gives is the promise of JOY. True joy does not depend on circumstances but on the presence of the Lord with us. This joy is not a continuous smile but a satisfaction in what the Lord has done and in his presence with us. Jeremiah 31:13 God says “I will turn their mourning into gladness; I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow.” There are a lot of verses about God turning our sorrow into joy. Sorrow may last for a night, but joy comes with the morning. And I read all of them after Caleb died. But I didn’t understand it. How is God going to turn this despair into joy? There’s never going to be a time where I am happy that my baby died, but there is a joyful contentment that God is in control. I’m thankful for the two boys I have at home, but neither of them replaced Caleb. You can’t create joy. Getting married won’t bring you joy. Getting divorced won’t bring you joy either. Your kids getting to a certain age won’t bring joy. Your bank account getting to a certain number won’t bring joy. A job promotion, a retirement, a cure… it won’t bring joy. It might bring happiness, but that’s not permanent. 

Joy isn’t based on our circumstances. In fact, joy is mixed in with the other gifts God gives us. Joy and Peace are BECAUSE we have Immanuel. Because God is WITH us we can have JOY in any circumstance. Because He is a God who is faithful, who is good, whose love for us is beyond compare. We can trust Him. Because He is a God who loves us so much that He sent His Son, Jesus Christ to die on the cross for our sins so that we who believe in Him can have eternal life.

Do you know Jesus as your Savior? Are you longing for the peace and joy that only He can give? Do you want God with you? Then you just have to tell Him. If you confess with your mouth “Jesus is Lord” and believe in your heart that God raised Jesus from the dead you will be saved (Romans 10:9). You will have Immanuel – God with you. You will have Peace that passes understanding. You will have Joy instead of sorrow. 

These gifts from God are for you. You just need to accept them.

The Reason of the Universe

The New Testament was originally written in Greek, so oftentimes looking up the Greek word provides helpful insight in understanding verses in the Bible. John 1:1 says “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” Word in Greek is Logos. The Greeks used logos as an impersonal reason of the universe, a sense of purpose, holding everything together. John goes on to explain that Jesus is the Word, or the Logos. Jesus is the personal, reason of the universe.

The whole first chapter of John is an introduction to the identity of Jesus Christ. John tells us that Jesus is God (v1), the Maker (v2), the true Light (v9), the Son of God (v14), God the One and only (v18), Lamb of God (v29), Chosen One (v34), Rabbi (v38), Messiah (v41), the One Moses wrote about (v45), the King of Israel (v49), and the Son of Man (v51).

How can Jesus be all these things? Because He is God. God became a man, so we can have a relationship with God.

In this first chapter of John, we see the beginning of Jesus’ disciples. Andrew had been following John the Baptist until he saw Jesus and declared “look the Lamb of God.” Andrew left John the Baptist and started following Jesus. The first thing he did was go and tell his brother Simon Peter about Jesus and bring his brother to meet Jesus. That’s exactly our mission too – tell others about Jesus, starting with your family. Simon comes to Jesus and Jesus changes his name to Peter, telling him that He has greater things planned for him.

Then Philip finds Jesus and follows him. Jesus calls Philip to discipleship: a surrendering of himself to follow Jesus. Philip tells his friend Nathanael, who is not so quick to believe. But Jesus knows Nathanael before He meets him. Hearing what Jesus already knows about Nathanael, he chooses to believe, declaring “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.”

Before He meets them, Jesus knows the disciples’ past and He knows their future. The same with us – He knows your past – the good and the bad. And He is calling you to a greater future. Don’t let your past hold you back from living the life Jesus has for you.

I Was At The Cross

I was at the cross. I watched as Jesus hung there between two criminals, yet He is an innocent man. Why does it have to be like this? The pain, torture, agony. I thought He was the Messiah. The One we’ve waited for but I didn’t expect Him to be crucified.

A crowd has gathered to watch Jesus suffer. Some, like me, are sad and confused. Others just mock Him, tease Him about being King of the Jews. “He IS the King!” I want to shout but I’m afraid they’ll put me on a cross too. Isn’t Jesus going through enough? Just leave Him alone.

I can hear the criminals talking to Jesus. “Save yourself and save me too,” says the one, just mocking Jesus. But the other criminal… he seems to know the truth. “We are guilty. We deserve this. But this man, Jesus, is innocent.”

I stand here paralyzed by grief as tears stream down my face. Jesus is almost unrecognizable because of the beatings He has endured. He doesn’t deserve this.

I think about what He said. The miracles He did: feeding thousands with just a few loaves of bread, healing the sick, giving sight to the blind, bringing Lazarus back from the dead! He has led an amazing life, always pointing to the Lord. A perfect life. He shouldn’t be hanging on a cross.

Me on the other hand… the things I’ve said and done and thought … I should be the one on the cross.

I try to fit these puzzle pieces together in my mind to make sense of all that is happening. Before I know it, Jesus speaks: “It is finished.” He took His last breath and He’s dead.

It is finished…? What is finished? It seemed like it was just beginning…

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He Found Them Sleeping

Everyone is known for something. Their job, family, personality, jokes they tell.  I am famous for sleeping. When I was a baby my parents had the entire second story of the house constructed. I learned to sleep through the hammering and sawing, and so we credit my deep sleeping abilities to the early days of my life.

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I’ve slept while a poopy diaper sat on the pillow next to my nose. I’ve slept in an arcade when supervising a youth group retreat. I’ve slept in restaurants (although that was after a concussion so it doesn’t seem like it should count). I’ve slept in my car – if Jack can do it, so can I. I taught my nieces and nephews how to play a sleeping game so that I could actually sleep longer instead of getting up to play. I’ve slept at work waiting for our party to begin. While I may enjoy sleeping, I realize some things are more important. Still, it can be hard to choose to wake up early.

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Just days before Jesus was going to be crucified, He was praying in the Garden of Gethsemane and a few disciples were with Him. Jesus tells the disciples to keep watch while He goes to pray. He returns to find them sleeping. “Couldn’t you keep watch for one hour? Watch and pray so you don’t fall into temptation,” Jesus said to them as He went away a second time to pray.

When Jesus came back, He again found them sleeping because their eyes were heavy. This time Jesus didn’t even say anything to them, but turns and goes away to pray a third time. Returning, Jesus finds them still sleeping.

How would you feel if you were Jesus? Facing torture and death and your friends are clueless – sleeping because their eyes were heavy. I wonder what the disciples missed out on because they were sleeping. We know they couldn’t have prevented Jesus’ death. Jesus said He had to die. What was He praying for those three times? For God to take the cup away from Him. “Yet not as I will but as You will,” Jesus prays to the Father.

I wonder what have I missed out on because I was sleeping. Have I missed opportunities to show compassion to friends? Have I missed time with the Lord because I chose to sleep instead of pray? Have I misunderstood what God is trying to say to me?

We know that we all need sleep. God created us like that and He says in His word that He gives His beloved sleep (Psalm 127:2) and that our sleep will be sweet (Proverbs 3:24). But I don’t want Jesus to find me sleeping. I don’t want to be “asleep” to His word or His guidance or His message for me. But to be aware of how the Lord is leading me, I need to read the Bible and pray. And in my life that’s going to mean choosing less sleep.

Matthew 26:36-46

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*I’d like to point out that I wrote this instead of taking a nap. 🙂

**My new favorite sleeping position is cuddling with Jack!

Shine On

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It seems to be around this time each year that we Midwesterners complain about the weather. Anxious for spring to begin and bring the sun and warm we’ve been missing. Meanwhile piles of snow linger next to driveways and the weather report shows an upcoming snowstorm this weekend. But the sun is out today. And kids are soaking it up, running around in hoodies and Uggs. Spring break officially started. For those who still get a spring break.

It seems so appropriate that Easter would be next week. Another “spring” if you will. Death. Rebirth. Celebration.

When Jesus died on the cross and was buried in the tomb, His followers were confused. They hadn’t understood His death was necessary, that it was the path He chose. The three days Jesus was in the tomb, His followers weren’t waiting to celebrate Easter. They didn’t know He would live again. They were mourning. Trying to reconcile their faith in Jesus as the Messiah and their confusion that things didn’t go as they expected.

Have you ever been in their shoes? Things don’t turn out as you expect and you’re sitting around mourning a “death” when spring is around the corner? The hardest part is believing “spring” will come and not knowing when it will arrive. How long do you wait? What if the disciples gave up after two days? What if they agreed their idea of Jesus being the Messiah was wrong.

“Hey everyone, forget the miracles you saw, the healings, the amazing teaching. We don’t really know who Jesus was, but He wasn’t the one we were waiting for. Sorry…”

But you can’t forget. It’s the memory of the miracles that gets you through the questions, the trials, the doubts.

I think it’s funny how everyone is complaining of the cold. This happens every year. Don’t you all remember? Spring will come. Jesus rose from the grave.

The trials you’re going through may not have a happy ending now, but someday you’ll look back and see the spring-like transformation God has done in your life. He makes all things new. He brings the dead back to life. He gives you beauty where there were ashes. He restores. He redeems. He has risen. He has risen indeed.

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The Power of Music

I’m not sure which is worse: not being able to leave my house or not being able to play my guitar. The iPad guitar app just isn’t the same.

Music has always been powerful in my life. God has given me songs to write, some even years ago that seem to really apply to my life now. Some songs I hear in church or on the radio that speak to me, giving me comfort, hope, and encouragement.

One song that has stood out over the last year is Desert Song by Hillsong. I first heard it about one year ago and instantly loved it. I recommended it to my sister for a women’s retreat in March that we were doing music for. The retreat happened to be about suffering and trials and Desert Song became the theme. Little did I know it would soon be my personal theme song.

I had Caleb on February 24, the weekend I was supposed to be in Wisconsin practicing for the retreat. After a few days passed and I was able to process life a little, I knew I was still supposed to play for the retreat just a few weeks later. I was encouraged by this video that tells a story of the song quite similar to mine.

In the desert, in the fire, in the battle – even when triumph hasn’t come yet, I will trust God.  I will bring praise, I will rejoice, and I will declare God is my victory and He is here!

Take 5 minutes and watch the video. If you haven’t already, some day you’ll have to walk through hard times. Choose your reaction now.