Tag Archives | God’s love

Holy Ground

The road I take daily is an uneven mess of potholes and cracks. At least it used to be. A few months ago, workers showed up bright and early one morning to set up their equipment on either side of this road I’ve grown to mildly tolerate. I recognized the routine, because they’ve done it dozens of time before. They fill in the holes, yet it doesn’t seem to make the ride any smoother.

This time, though, they shut the road down temporarily. They allowed only one lane to pass by at a narrow crawl while they began a new thing on this road, something I’ve never seen them do in almost a decade of living here.

They covered the old road with a brand-new one.

It was time-consuming and inconvenient, and most days (if I remembered) I’d take another route to avoid that road entirely. When it was finished and all the workers cleared out their equipment and heavy trucks, it was as if there was never a hole or so much as a bump in the road.

Holy Ground

Photo by Maria Stiehler on Unsplash

A brand-new road was poured right on top of the old, broken one. The cracks have been leveled by a smooth, flat pathway. We can spend our lives trying to fill holes deep within us, when all we really needed is an altogether new heart.

For the last nine years, I’ve veered to the middle of the road every day to avoid a huge pothole right before the stop sign at the bottom of the bridge. Today I caught myself mindlessly swerving to miss something that is no longer there. Habits are hard to break.

God’s word is a lamp for my feet and a light for my path, it’s true, but sometimes I turn to other things foolishly thinking they can light my way. Lies can drag me off God’s path, my own emotions and expectations can weigh me down to a stop, and other people and their plans for my life can distract and mislead me.  Like my driving habits, it doesn’t take much to slip into old mindsets I’ve outgrown.

This is how I will always be. Or I’ll never overcome this struggle. It’s just as ridiculous as trying to avoid a pothole that’s no longer in front of me. Jesus came full of grace and truth to renew minds and transform hearts. So rather than repeating accusatory (and false) words to my heart, I’m learning to replace them with these instead: This is how Gods changing me. I’m trusting God to help me overcome this struggle.

My identity is longer tied to my past.

Who I am is securely fastened to the One who bridged a sure path for my heart. I could never fill in these holes in my heart, but Jesus made every crooked path straight and every rough road smooth when gave me a brand-new heart. He’s paved direct access from my heart to the Father’s, a narrow way I’m learning to take.

Some days, I hate the inconvenience of it. I can’t stand the mess and the wait. I’d rather just go another way, avoid this road entirely. But in kindness and love, God keeps bringing me back to the very same road that used to be full of bumps and cracks and flaws. There, He invites me to learn His way, practice His truth, walk in His love.

A quick fix with no discomfort or inconvenience can seem so very alluring, but healing a heart and repaving a road hardly happen in a day. Jesus invites us to walk in freedom, and exercising that freedom requires time and trust. Every time we believe Jesus to lead us forward, we gain a little more level ground underneath our feet. And level ground is holy ground, to be sure.

Jesus loves you,

Kelly

 

Scripture references:

Show me your ways, Lord, teach me your paths. Psalm 25:4 NIV

The path of the righteous is level; you, the Upright One, make the way of the righteous smooth. Isaiah 26:7 NIV

I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them. Isaiah 42:16 NIV

Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth. Luke 3:5 NIV

 

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The Most Dangerous Beautiful Words

I’ll never overcome this, I’ll never outlive that, I’ll never fit in, I’ll never have what it takes, I’ll never change. We’ve all spoken variations of I’ll never and believed whole-heartedly in our own promises until we find ourselves doing and becoming exactly what we vowed we wouldn’t.

I’ve been absolutely sure for years now that rap music is not my thing. My husband loves rap music (of the Christian variety, these days). The words are too fast and too loud for me. I’ve vowed that I’ll never listen to rap music or, at the very least, I’ll never enjoy it.

I’m not very good at keeping my own promises.

My three-year-old (who loves to sing) also loves loud music, fast music, and rap music. She jams with her daddy with the windows rolled down, tiny fists pumping from her car seat in the back. Ever since she started talking, she’s made song requests each time we climb in the car, like I’m her personal DJ. Her song selection of choice is almost always her daddy’s beats.

Because she’s adorable and it elicits pure joy in her, I say yes every single time. And guess what? Those songs are some of my favorites now. Listening to them on repeat has helped me pay attention and learn the words, and the message is truth. I have no problem with my toddler belting out lines that proclaim Jesus’ name.

The Most Dangerous Beautiful Words

Photo by Matthieu A on Unsplash

When we use absolutes with regard to ourselves or others, it always sets us up to be proven wrong. “I’ll never” can be two of the most dangerous words. Here’s why: I’ll never is a derivative of you’ll never.

You will not surely die,” are the slippery words from the serpent recorded in Genesis 3:4. Because Satan cannot see our heart or the growth taking place within it, he clings to all he has access to: our past. Every mistake, failure, regret. He flings them in front of us, using each one to build a case of how we’ll never do such and such.

Ultimately, our enemy wants us to believe we’ll never be free.

It becomes the easiest thing to nod our heads and say, “You must be right.” We do it all the time. But with every nonchalant agreement, our hearts veer away from God and all He created us to be.

I’ll never do that again, we say, regarding trivial matters like wearing skinny jeans and monumental matters like trusting someone with our story. We say, I’ll never go there, until God leads us by the hand to that very place. I’ll never be like her, we believe, until we glance at our own reflection in an honest light and realize we aren’t so different after all.

We change our minds and somehow expect God to change His. But God c a n n o t  change. He is unchangeable. So, when the voice creeps in that says, I’ll never be enough, remember God already says you are. He won’t change His mind on that. Ever. God is absolutely sure of Himself.

The difference between God and us is being and becoming.

God is absolutely pure in His being. His perfections, His purposes, and His promises are all unchangeable. Unlike God, we are becoming. Not yet there. In progress. Our souls cannot support the weight of absolutes. The agreements we make might be simple like deciding our taste in fashion or music will remain the same, or they might be complicated and weigh heavy on our hearts.

An honest question to ask ourselves is, “Who is this absolute tethered to?” Only One is absolutely true to His word and not subject to change.

Peter said, “I’ll never deny you, Lord,” and then he did. Thomas said, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” When Jesus held out his nail-scarred hands, doubting Thomas became a believer.

I can personally relate to their faith struggles, their battles with absolutes, the ease with which they make stone-clad agreements only to watch them crumble. But as we watch their stories unfold throughout scripture, we see Jesus love them, forgive them, change them, use them, and set their hearts free.

God invites us to live under the same banner of His absolute, unchanging love.

As Peter and Thomas walked in relationship with Jesus, they traded their own absolutes for His. Those same two words that echoed the first lie ever told, “I’ll never,” instead became beautiful words that defined their new faith.

Never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth. Genesis 9:11

I will never leave or forsake you. Joshua 1:5

I will never break my covenant with you. Judges 2:1

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end. Lamentations 3:22

The God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed. Daniel 2:44

You’ll never thirst again. John 4:14

All that the Father gives me will come to me, whoever comes to me I will never cast out. John 6:37

I will never blot his name out of the book of life. Revelation 3:5

I don’t know about you, but I’m standing with absolute certainty on the promise that Love never ends and God never lies. I’ll be the momma in the car pool lane with the window cracked so that beautiful base spills out obnoxiously loud. 

Jesus loves you,
Kelly

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The Ministry of Morning Dew

As we walked to the bus stop, they asked the usual big kid questions (how, why, when) concerning the tiny droplets of water covering our lawn and everybody else’s. I reached way back to retrieve a solid explanation from my science teaching days. The word condensation left my lips (or was it precipitation?) with the same amount of grace I muster up each time I try to fold a fitted sheet into a neat square stack.

After completely confusing them, I finally said, “Guys, I’m not really sure. Dew just happens overnight, when we’re all fast asleep.” We moved onto a new topic, but I was aware of the sense that they had settled.

We all knew I hadn’t really answered the question.

When dew shows up the very next morning in Psalm 110, I prepare myself for a better explanation of the early morning mystery. I record verse 3 in my journal, a little confused yet trusting I’m on the verge of something sacred.

Photo by Jonas Weckschmied on Unsplash

Your people will offer themselves freely on the day of your power, in holy garments; from the womb of the morning, the dew of your youth will be yours. Psalm 110:3 ESV

Psalm 110 depicts God the Father speaking to God the Son.  I learn that it is one of the most cited passages in the New Testament. Yet, in my bible (the one I’ve read for the past seven years) not one verse is underlined. The margin where I normally scribble illegible notes to myself is completely blank.

I settle in, curious as to how these very words quoted by Paul, the gospel authors, and even Jesus Himself could have slipped through my grasp. How could I have missed this? Matthew Henry explains that the dew of your youth “is a numerous, illustrious, hopeful show of young people flocking to Christ, which would be to the world as dew to the ground, to make it fruitful.”

Dew is refreshing, but also purposefully mysterious.

I start thinking of my oldest girl’s tender heart, how she leans in to drink the things of God. A couple months ago, she claimed Jesus as her Lord and Savior. Her King and Priest, as this passage also declares.

Photo by A&A Newborn Photography

When we went to meet with sweet Miss Maggie, her Children’s Minister, I panicked when I realized I never wrote down the date of her life-changing decision. It was summer, or had school started? I couldn’t remember. The conversations spread out over days, months even. This giving her heart to Jesus was a long time coming. It occurred in the hiddenness of her own heart prompted by her own seven-year-old prayer.

As we sat there with Miss Maggie in October—everything got pushed back a bit thanks to Hurricane Harvey—I started to categorize this as another “mom-fail.” Then ever-so-gently, God assured my momma heart that my girls’ decision to follow Him stretches far beyond a single day, a single moment, a single prayer.

He’s been pursuing her heart for her whole entire life. This, too, is a phenomenon like the morning dew; it’s hard to pin down a certain date, a certain starting place, a certain measurable quantity. God knows the exact moment she handed Him her heart.

The hiddenness defines the beauty.

Eugene Peterson, in his book As Kingfishers Catch Fire, connects the phrase from the womb of morning to Mary’s womb delivering Jesus, the fulfillment of God’s covenant and refreshment of hearts. Gorgeous if you stoop low enough to notice, yet much easier to miss. Peterson relates the spectacular, dominating metaphors of royal king and holy priest to something altogether unexpected: the early morning birth of a baby who came to save the world.

Like dew, we celebrate His arrival every December, marvel at His beauty, share in His glorious refreshment. It suits Jesus to use an overlooked metaphor. Most days we walk right by unless we’re paying close attention. But those of us who dare to lean in a little get a sacred glimpse of His power and righteousness in this tangible phenomenon that greets us morning by morning.

On the soggiest winter morning, this brave girl of ours was baptized by her daddy in front of all her family and friends.

Outside under heavy fog and in full view of the glistening dew, she got to show everyone she loves that she now belongs to Jesus.

Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 19:14 ESV

Jesus loves you,

Kelly

 

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The Season of Singing

The news of my pregnancy with my third child initiated an avalanche of fear within me. Pregnancy in the past had not always guaranteed a baby in my arms. Those early days were spent leaning on precious prayers from others who stood in the gap for me. During that summer, God spoke this phrase again and again to my timid heart.

This is the season of singing.

The words are from a beautiful passage in Song of Solomon, and they served as the perfect reminder that God was in control, that He had been with me in my season of grieving, and that this was a brand-new season, one I had never experienced before. By His grace, God ushered in a season of singing, one that would replace mourning with a new song of joy.

He placed a new song in my mouth—not a new melody with new lyrics, but a fresh response to a newfound understanding of the depth of His love for me. Jesus interceded and named my season when I struggled to even mouth the words.

Once we could feel our girl move, we noticed this pattern. Every Sunday morning during worship, this tiny growing baby would go crazy. I’m not just talking kicks; this was excessive dancing and flipping. We would just look at each other and shrug with silly grins on our faces, tickled at God’s goodness.

I dared to hum along as I practiced trusting His promise.

The movements in my belly mirrored flutters in my heart. Each served as hard evidence of the power of intercessory prayer. We named this sweet baby Anna Joy. Anna after the woman in the bible who dedicated her life to worshipping Jesus in spite of her grief, and Joy because that just seemed obvious. Her brother, sister, and cousins nicknamed her Joy-Joy when she was a baby, as if one Joy wouldn’t suffice.

Photo by A & A Newborn Photography

Photo by A & A Newborn Photography

This little firecracker turned three this week, and she has made it her mission in life to extend this season of singing indefinitely, it seems. Anna Joy doesn’t sing “Jesus Loves Me” at a sweet lullaby volume; she only knows to belt out her song with enthusiastic dance moves. She has one volume: all the way up.

I have no idea what this child will do one day or how God will use her. She’s a toddler and oblivious at this age to God’s purpose for her life, but as her parents, you can bet we’re paying attention. We see all the potential, all the possibilities, all the ways God might use her. All the ways He already has.

If we can recognize this small glimpse of beauty far beyond a single child, then imagine what God sees in you, His precious son or daughter.

God sees all the beauty we cannot.

We hope and dream and pray, but we can still only imagine what God has in store. But He knows. He has scripted a remarkable plan. He sings over us when a song is about the farthest thing from our lips. He delights in who we are: His children.

On the night that Simon Peter would betray Him, Jesus spoke these words: “But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22:32)

Peter was appalled at the thought. He denied it could ever happen, but then hours later, He denied knowing Jesus, just as predicted. I wonder if Peter thought back to Jesus’ words that night and during the days that followed Jesus’ death. I wonder if he found a similar peace in knowing Jesus had prayed for him, that He saw beauty beyond Peter’s fears and failures.

God sent Jesus to intercede and become the beauty in Peter’s story. Jesus revived Peter’s faith on the shores of Galilee, and Peter became a mouthpiece for the good news. Peter leaned into the melody of God’s love and dared to let it change him.

Peter’s song still resonates today.

When I pray for my Joy, I’m reminded of God’s prayers for me. I remember how even in my struggle to trust Him, He interceded in love. He held my hand and led me into a beautiful season of singing. And He’ll do it again and again and again until the day He ushers me into His presence where my singing will never ever end.

Happy birthday, Anna Joy!

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A Stereotypical Scene

I carefully take each wooden figure out of the box and arrange them underneath the sloped stable frame. Wise men crowd in, shepherd accompany sheep and donkey. Every figure points to the tiniest among them. He is the center, the reason they all gather, the reason I take such care to recreate this birth scene in my own living room each year.

Others will unpack this same identical nativity set. They’ll haul it down from attics or pluck it off fully stocked shelves. Though cut from a pattern, it’s a beautiful scene.

I get to thinking about the process of cutting each block of wood, sanding and shaping each wise man, each shepherd, each baby Jesus in his manger. I consider the general mold that must be used. Cookie cutter stables. Familiar figures whose full stories remain unknown. This is the setting where divine Love intersected humanity. This is the site where a Savior was born.

Hardly a stereotypical scene.

Stereotype is reminiscent of the dated practice of printing by means of a metal plate. “Solid type” is its most literal meaning. Yet its negative connotations are the ones I’m considering as I arrange twinkle lights around this ordinary wooden nativity scene.

God reminds me through His word how the world crammed this story into unfair and untrue confines. Pregnant teen. Naïve fiancé. Illegitimate baby. Poor shepherds. Rich kings. Dirty stable. This one of a kind scene was perhaps one of the most misunderstood.

As people who’ve been assigned to our own share of stereotypes and burdened with painful misunderstanding, this nativity story offers much needed hope and a new beginning.

The world had never witnessed a birth story quite like this one and they would never see another. This nativity story was hand crafted by the Creator Himself and set in motion before time began. No mold was needed, no pattern to replicate necessary. This story doesn’t fit neatly into any tidy box, nor was it what anyone expected, but one thing was true then and is still true today:

On that holy night, God called this scene good.

God called Mary and Joseph into His plan. Mary fulfilled the bloodline and Joseph the legal lineage for the long-awaited Savior King. Both made an incredible sacrifice as they agreed with the words spoken by angels and stepped into God’s story. Their willingness to be used by God was more powerful than the constricting stereotypes thrust upon them.

No stereotype can prevent God’s plan to birth something beautiful in all of us.

“Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Matthew 1:18 ESV

Found. Like a dirty secret kept hidden now precariously exposed. Except it wasn’t dirty, nor would it remain a secret for long. No, this was the greatest treasure to ever be discovered on earth.

Mary was not found out; she found her life in Him.

Joseph considered divorce, yet he knew that the punishment for women caught in adultery was death. Many would judge this birth as sinful and impure. The angel that visited Joseph assured him that what was conceived in Mary was from the Holy Spirit. Would Joseph risk dishonor and choose to believe God?

Mary’s reputation and her own life were on the line, and when Joseph agreed to stand by her, he placed his own reputation right there with hers. Over in Luke’s account we get to hear Mary’s response to her own personal angelic message.

And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word. Luke 1:38 ESV Then Mary responded with song, a sign her heart was fixed on one thing and one thing only: God’s glorious story unfolding.

What seemed like a curse in the world’s eyes was God’s most precious blessing.

Mary and Joseph were misunderstood, yet they understood God’s message. They were lonely, but they carried the Savior of the world with them. Just as unsure of the future as we are, they treasured the good news in their hearts. They were judged unfairly and rejected by man, but chosen and honored by God.

Jesus would put his reputation on the line as well. He would be misunderstood as a young boy with gifts and perspectives no one else held. Rumors of illegitimacy would follow Jesus all the way to the cross. (See John 8:19, 41) His own brothers, James and Jude, (who would go on to write the Spirit-inspired new testament books that bear their names) did not believe Jesus was the Son of God until after His death and resurrection.

God chose the most vulnerable, marginalized vessel to birth His salvation plan. Though the stereotypes were harsh and untrue, Mary wasn’t sinless and she certainly wasn’t fearless. Mary was human like the rest of us, but she made herself available to be used by God.

God chose you to birth something extraordinary, too.

Your vulnerability, mistakes, and doubts are the very things that qualify you. We all need saving and God chose to save us by giving us Jesus. Our minds can’t fathom it. Fear convinces us we’re the wrong choice. But the wonder and mystery draws us in, and we take a moment to consider it. How can this be?

How can this be… because of me?

Yet it’s true. We can’t come this close to glory and turn back. Our faces shine and our hearts understand this one thing: much is at stake. So, we say yes. Yes, let your word be unto me. Yes, Jesus, have your way. Use me as your vessel. Birth new life in this humble heart.

God invites us to release our reputation, our plans, and our entire lives to Him. How will it look? A lot like this simple nativity scene. Humble, vulnerable, inconvenient, and misunderstood. Yet when the life and death of Christ are applied to this unexpected story, we see what we couldn’t before. We see a brand-new scene that’s part of a bigger story.

A gorgeous, one of a kind nativity scene that shatters every stereotype ever conceived.

John, the one Jesus charged with watching over His mother as He hung from the cross, recorded these words in red: “If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.” John 12:26 ESV

May we all take our lead from Mary and boldly declare, I am the Lords servant. Let it be to me according to His plan. May we find courage to belt out our own praises to God as stereotypes, like Jericho walls, come tumbling down.

Merry Christmas from our home to yours.

Kelly

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I Want to See… Snow

My girl learned how to make snowflakes at school this week. She made a dozen at the kitchen table Wednesday night, not two alike. She taped a few to the back door and ever since, she’s peppered me with questions. “When will it snow? Can it snow here in Houston? Will it ever snow here? Why doesn’t it snow here?” And after each round of questioning, she’d sigh, “I really want to see snow.”

paper snowflakes

With every ounce of my momma wisdom, I explained how snow is pretty, but it causes issues on the roads, shuts down schools, grocery stores, businesses, and airports. I told her how my own grandfather had a successful business plowing snow up north. I tried to prepare her heart for the reality of a snowless winter here in Houston.

Until it started snowing last night.

When I peeked out the window and saw those flurries, I raced upstairs to pull her out of bed. Coming slowly out of her sleep, she looked up at me like I had lost my mind. “It’s snowing!” I said. She scrambled out of bed, slipped on her coat, and for 30 seconds we watched white dust fall from the sky.

Afterwards, I tucked her back in—I was headed to her brother’s room next—and thought quietly to myself, “Too bad it will never stick.” And that was that. Later as I lay down to sleep, I thanked God that He had let my girl see snow at last. I was content as I smiled in the dark and drifted off to sleep.

When my alarm went off this morning, something pulled me to the front window. My mouth fell open at the site. “No,” I said out loud to the quiet, sleeping house. Yes. Snow. Everywhere snow. It not only snowed; it stuck. As far as I could see was this beautiful blanket of white, like the most unexpected Christmas gift. I thought about waking the whole house at 5am, but I waited. I grabbed my pen and spilled the joy in my heart onto the page.

snow

Yes, this snow makes me giddy. It hardly ever snows here, but most importantly, my girl had just told me yesterday (and every day before) how badly she wanted to see snow. And as soon as she got up, she’d get to see it, taste it, walk through it, hold it, play in it, and experience it.

I smiled as I told God, “You must really love that girl.” I mean, to do all this for a seven-year-old girl. And immediately, without so much as a breath in between, I heard Him say to my heart, “I love all my children like this. I love you that much, too.”

When Jesus asked the blind man, “What do you want me to do for you?” the man simply replied, “Rabbi, I want to see.” (See Mark 10:51) The most basic, anticipated answer you’d expect from a blind man. Reminds me of my girl’s simplistic wish: “I want to see snow.”

Jesus came to give us so much more than what our eyes can see.

He came that we would taste freedom, that we would walk with our heavenly Father in a brand-new life. He came to heal us, hold us, and revive precious hope within us. Jesus came that we might experience heaven right here on earth.

If you’re looking for us today, we’ll be outside having a snow day!

Kelly

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When Your Heart Feels Heavy

Last week I wrote about thanksgiving—not family tradition or the celebration itself, but the kind of thanksgiving that flows from our lips as praise to the One from whom all blessings flow. This precious truth from Psalm 8:2 has been on my heart ever since: 

A thankful heart can silence the lies of the enemy. 

But sometimes, embracing gratitude is a struggle. The state of our hearts can feel out of sync with the cheer of the season. We wonder why our self-ridden hearts get to be so heavy and forget that Jesus came to us as a bundled baby to free our hearts from every weight.

When my heart feels defeated and I’m tempted to fix myself or turn to someone or something to fix me, this beautiful truth from God’s Word draws me back to Him: We can do nothing apart from Christ.

I wrote this prayer during a season when the words from Isaiah 46 both convicted and comforted my heart. If you’re heart feels heavy today and gratitude feels more like a chore than a choice, I pray these words offer some hope today.

Click the image below to download your own copy of this Prayer for a Heavy Heart.

A Prayer for a Heavy Heart

Click image to download PDF of prayer

 // Isaiah 46 //

 1 Bel bows down, Nebo stoops low;
their idols are borne by beasts of burden.
The images that are carried about are burdensome,
a burden for the weary.
They stoop and bow down together;
unable to rescue the burden,
they themselves go off into captivity.

God, you name the idols, you call them out. You point out the ones I carry, as well, the things I love and serve, idols that cannot rescue, cannot love, cannot protect me. I name them now as I bow before you. I admit that these idols have weighed me down to a weary crawl. These are from you to be used for you and by you, yet my sin convinces me they are mine to worship, hold high, hold close. But I am yours; I belong to you. I was bought at a price. Love paid the ultimate ransom for my freedom. Lord, I’ve tried to steal your glory. Forgive me, Jesus.

“Listen to me, you descendants of Jacob,
all the remnant of the people of Israel,
you whom I have upheld since your birth,
and have carried since you were born.
Even to your old age and gray hairs
I am he, I am he who will sustain you.
I have made you and I will carry you;
I will sustain you and I will rescue you.

Thank you, Jesus, for your love. Thank you for your ability and willingness to rescue my rebellious heart. You have carried me my whole life. Not a moment has passed without your hand guiding me. Your promise to continue carrying me brings a new peace to my heart. Your mercy is far beyond my understanding. You are my Maker, and you love what you’ve created. My heart is in your hands. These idols will never add value to the masterpiece you’ve made of me. You’re the adventure. You’re my prize. I choose to fix my eyes on you alone.

“With whom will you compare me or count me equal?
To whom will you liken me that we may be compared?
Some pour out gold from their bags
and weigh out silver on the scales;
they hire a goldsmith to make it into a god,
and they bow down and worship it.
They lift it to their shoulders and carry it;
they set it up in its place, and there it stands.
From that spot it cannot move.
Even though someone cries out to it, it cannot answer;
it cannot save them from their troubles.

It seems ridiculous to think for a moment that these idols could ever unburden me, save me, protect me, rescue me. It’s like strapping burdensome weights on my back and wondering why it’s hard to move forward. These idols cannot save, they cannot answer, and they cannot move me. They bind me useless, ineffective, and stuck. I empty my hands. Fill me with your love.

“Remember this, keep it in mind,
take it to heart, you rebels.
Remember the former things, those of long ago;
I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is none like me.
10 I make known the end from the beginning,
from ancient times, what is still to come.
I say,
‘My purpose will stand,
and I will do all that I please.

11 From the east I summon a bird of prey;
from a far-off land, a man to fulfill my purpose.
What I have said, that I will bring about;
what I have planned, that I will do.

There is none like You, God. You are faithful and true. I’ve exchanged truth for lies, and I’ve worshipped the created rather than you, my Creator. Yet you made possible this great exchange to reverse everything we corrupted and tarnished: my sin for your perfect love. It cost you everything. You have not only carried me, but you’ve carried out your beautiful redemption plan. It is finished, Jesus, and I live in the glow of the resurrection, the promise kept, the Way made known to all.

12 Listen to me, you stubborn-hearted,
you who are now far from my righteousness.
13 I am bringing my righteousness near,
it is not far away;
and my salvation will not be delayed.
I will grant salvation to Zion,
my splendor to Israel.

You initiated, Jesus. You drew near, even as my sin obstructed my view of you. You made this exchange possible for me while I was still stuck, immobile in my brokenness. In you I find rest and peace and freedom and salvation. In you I find purpose, joy, and acceptance. My idols have failed me, harmed me, drained me, and left me empty. But you, Jesus, have never failed; you are faithful. Thank you that I am kept secure in you. Thank you for carrying me in love.

Amen.

Artwork created by Julie Cassol

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A Thankful Heart Is a Protected Heart

Last week my little one and I met my husband for lunch. As we settled down at our table, I glanced up and noticed the gigantic Christmas ornaments flanking the entrance to the outdoor space. A week before Thanksgiving. I chuckled and commented how the push to skip Thanksgiving seems to grow year by year. We moved on to another conversation, but the nagging in my heart lingers today.

Christmas decorating isn’t the problem. We will pull out red, green, and glittery gold ornaments to decorate our home while the kids are out of school. Probably before Thanksgiving. The issue isn’t our decor; the issue lies in our hearts.

We rush through Thanksgiving to get to Christmas just so we can turn it into a holiday that celebrates us. There’s a good reason this is the one of the most painful seasons for many of us. We just might be making ourselves sick… with too much of ourselves. I scribble a question in the margin of my journal and silently ask God to answer.

How do we cultivate gratitude in a self-ridden culture?

Most mornings my daughter comes downstairs and shares a verse she’s read earlier in her room that either stood out to her or one she doesn’t quite understand. We talk about it over breakfast, then she draws a picture in her journal of what it means to her. Before she hops out of the car at school, we pray God’s Word back to Him. It’s a simple practice we’re trying to turn into a habit.

This morning she shares Psalm 8:2 with me. Out of the mouth of babes and nursing infants You have ordained strength, because of Your enemies, that You may silence the enemy and the avenger. (NKJV) Out of the mouth of babes. I silently acknowledge the irony.

My daughter’s NIRV translation puts it this way: You have made sure that children and infants praise you. Their praise is a wall that stops the talk of your enemies. She’s drawn a wall that reaches halfway up her page.

God reminds me right here on the couch next to my girl that thanksgiving is powerful. My own words of thanksgiving to Him are a sweet praise offering, and they act as a shield around my heart. I’m beginning to understand why self is such an attractive tool in the unseen spiritual realm. I can see why the enemy feels threatened by the simple habit of giving thanks.

Thanksgiving protects our hearts by silencing the enemy.

A thankful heart is a protected heart

When Jesus cleared the temple courts of those influenced by greed and hatred, the little children sang out, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” The religious leaders asked Jesus if He could hear what they were saying. (Insert indignant disdain here.)

And Jesus said to them, “Yes. Have you never read, ‘Out of the mouth of babes and nursing babies you have perfected praise’?” (see Matthew 21:15-16 NKJV)

Jesus used this same proclamation of truth to silence His own enemies, the ones dedicated to destroying Him and stealing His glory for personal gain. One of the most beautiful mysteries of the kingdom of God is strength made perfect in weakness.

When praise erupts from our weakest, most vulnerable places, the enemy is silenced. Hearts full of thanks literally push back the darkness. When we thank God for who He is and what He’s done, a wall of protection shields us from the enemy’s harmful lies.

Truth destroys the lies meant to destroy us.

When we worship God in spirit and truth, we believe in our hearts and proclaim with our mouths the very essence of His character. We can offer up thanksgiving in the bleakest of circumstances, not because we are strong, but because He is the One from whom all blessings flow. His strength is made perfect in our weakness.

May this Thanksgiving be a time to remember God’s faithfulness yesterday, to acknowledge His goodness today, and to trust Him to carry us through whatever tomorrow holds.

Jesus loves you,

Kelly

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Doxology

Thanks for joining me for Contenders of the Faith. 6 voices, 4 weeks, 2 verses, ONE purpose: Contend for the faith.

I think it’s fitting that Jude’s name means “He shall be praised.” Though this post will wrap up our series, I want to take you back to the very beginning—to the first five words Jude selects to follow his name in this letter we’ve been reading.

“Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ…” Jude 1:1

Doxology

He could’ve claimed half-brother status, but he didn’t. Jude called himself a servant. The blood Jesus shed for him was more important than family blood, Jude seems to say. Within this humble title, Jude gently reminds us that following Jesus’ means keeping His command to love God and love people.

Jude knew that if we follow his lead and maintain a posture of servitude, we automatically place ourselves in a position to recognize that every gift we’ve been given is for the building up of the body of Christ.

When your aim is love, there is no greater title than servant.

Contenders are servants. And they are worshipping warriors. Contenders align their lives with the anticipation of Jesus’ return. So praise Him. Serve Him. Keep yourselves in His love always. He’s coming back. Jude ends his letter with the most beautiful doxology:

To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy— to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen. Jude 1:24-25

Earlier this week, Kristin beautifully defined what Jude meant when he wrote “keep yourselves in the love of God.” (Jude 1:21) This word keep shows up in 1 John 2:3: “Those who love me keep my comamnds.” Jude closes his letter with, “To him who is able to keep you from stumbling…” This keep is a different Greek word. Phylássō means guard, watch, protect, and most importantly, save.

Jesus is willing and able to save.

He saves us from the penalty of sin, from the enemy’s arrows meant to destroy us, and from living ineffective, powerless lives. Jesus is willing and able to save us from ourselves.

God keeps those who oppose the gospel for judgment, but He has the power to keep from stumbling those who place their faith in Him. God’s power and authority offer a protective shield for this fight today. We contend not to prove ourselves worthy, but so that the glorious good news entrusted to us proves itself through our very lives.

To Him be glory, majesty, power, and authority… now and forever.

Winner of Giveaway

Morgan Clayton is the winner of the giveaway! Thanks to all who entered and took part in this series. If you want to purchase Women of the Word and start your own small group, you can get yours here.

Contenders of the Faith (new series)

Click the image to see all Contenders of the Faith posts

INTRO: Contend for the faith. Jude 1:3

Contenders of the Faith Series

FAITH {video}

PART I: But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith… Jude 1:20a

Lost & Found: A Story of Identity by Bethany Dufilho

A Faith That Grows by Misty Keith

IDENTITY {video}

Jesus Friends by Jackie Hooks

PART II: …and praying in the Holy Spirit, Jude 1:20b

Love and the Power of Prayer by Leigha Balchus

SPIRIT {video}

PART III: Keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. Jude 1:21

The Gift of Waiting by Julie Cassol

Waiting for Our Beloved by Kristin Brown

LOVE {video}

Conclusion: To him who is able to keep you… Jude 1:24

Doxology

May the words of these contenders challenge and encourage, nourish and convict, and remind you at your core that you are loved.

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Waiting for Our Beloved

My final guest’s humble words relay a powerful message as we near the end of the Contenders of the Faith series. Kristin Brown has a quiet way of drawing others into the heart of God. Today, she invites us all to consider what it means to await our coming King. (If you’ve missed the other posts in this series, get caught up by starting here.)

Contenders of the Faith Part 3

Waiting for Our Beloved by Kristin Brown

We have never been as near to the second coming of our Lord Jesus as we are now. The evidence is all around us. The creation itself groans with labor pains as hurricanes spiral and earthquakes devastate. The signs in the heavens couldn’t be clearer as constellations cry out His coming and the sun is darkened by the moon. The peoples are raging as nations are rising against nations and persecution abounds against the saints.

The tiny book of Jude, written in the first century AD, delivers a powerful message to the church today. Initially desiring to write about the great salvation that has been entrusted to the saints, Jude, most probably the brother of Jesus, shifts gears and presents a message of admonition to the believers. He warns that the church has been infiltrated by godless men who reject the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ and who encourage the church to abuse the grace given to them by indulging in sin. And then, Jude passionately calls the believers to wake up and remember that in the last days, evil men will try to divide the church, but that they must stand their ground and contend for the faith.

“But you, dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit. Keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.”   Jude 20-21

Now, more than ever, the church must awaken. We must pursue godliness, releasing anything in our lives that prevents us from obeying completely the Word of the Lord. We must get on our knees in prayer, and learn to hear his voice. And we must keep ourselves in God’s love as we wait for His return.

But just how do we keep ourselves in the love of God, as Jude urges us to do? And how do we await His coming?

As I dusted off my Greek New Testament and lexicon and began to dig into the original language of Jude 21, several things jumped out at me. The first was the strange ordering of the sentence. In a very literal translation the wording goes like this: “Yourselves in the love of God keep ye!” The Greek word for “keep ye” is teresate and it means to keep unharmed or undisturbed. It has the nuance of keeping a virgin pure before marriage. I looked up other cross references in the New Testament that had the same word and found Jesus’ clear words to his disciples just before his death, “He who has my commands and keeps them, he is the one who loves me,” John 14:21. And then in 1 John 5:18, “We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the one who was born of God keeps him safe and the evil one cannot harm him.”

Keeping ourselves in the love of God is not just an emotional declaration of our love for God. It is a resolute commitment to obeying his words. It is keeping ourselves pure for our bridegroom. The ordering of Jude’s words makes it clear that this keeping is something we must do ourselves and at the same time, as 1 John declares, (to my great relief!) it is something that Jesus Himself does in us.

Waiting For Our Beloved

Concerning awaiting His coming, Jude uses the word prosdechomenoi to describe the way we are to await the mercy of the Lord to bring us to eternal life. This word literally means “toward receiving” and it conjures up the image of a child holding out his arms waiting anxiously for a gift. We are to await His coming with that same kind of convinced expectancy.

Over thirty years ago, my Aunt Carolyn suffered two major brain injuries and had to learn to do everything over again. Things like eating and swallowing and speaking and walking had to be relearned, just like a baby. Reading and writing are still especially difficult for her, but she is a faithful prayer warrior like few I have ever known. For years now she has said the same thing in the midst of the difficulty of her earthly life, “Maybe the Lord will come today!” It is her greatest hope and the very thing that keeps her going day after day. Like a little child, she reaches toward the return of the King.

I have been meditating on Hebrews chapter 10 during these exciting days leading up to the time when we will see His face.

So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. For in just a very little while, ‘He who is coming will come and will not delay. But my righteous one will live by faith. And if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him.’ But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved. Hebrews 10:35-39

He is coming soon! Let us press forward then, throwing off every sin that entangles us and let us await the coming of our beloved with pure and expectant hearts.

Just think. Maybe the Lord will come today!

About Kristin

About Kristin

Kristin Brown lives in the country with her firefighter husband, Jason, and three children, Adeline, Jeremiah and Thaddaeus.

She spends her days homeschooling her children and helping manage the family’s small working farm.

She writes about how her farm experiences testify to the presence of God.

 

You can check out Kristin’s blog, Respite Ranch, at kristinjoybrown.wordpress.com.

Final Thoughts…

A life of faith requires listening, believing, trusting and obeying; it never requires empty striving or weary proving. As the gospel intersects our hearts, Jesus proves His love through our surrendered lives, making us all contenders of our sacred faith. Today, may Kristin’s beautiful words encourage us to throw up our arms and exhale as we await His return.

If you haven’t already, grab your free download of Jude1:20-21 here. Follow me on Facebook and tune in for one more live video Wednesday at noon!

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