Tag Archives | good news

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. They were just as unsure of the future as we are, but 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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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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Lost & Found: A Story of Identity

We are kicking off this Contenders of the Faith series by talking about our identity in Christ. God’s love is the source of our identity, which is why God calls His children by the name Beloved. My first guest, Bethany, is sharing with us her journey to discover this amazing truth.

If you missed the very first post in this series, you can catch up right here.

Contenders of the Faith (new series)

Lost & Found: A Story of Identity by Bethany Dufilho

I was one of those kids who never knew what I wanted to be when I grew up.

I liked singing so I was always in a choir at church or school. It was something I never really worked at but I experienced some success and enjoyed the sense of identity and belonging it gave me. I was a big-ish fish in a few small-ish ponds.  As I got older, the ponds got bigger.  I played into a comparison game full of my own perfectionism and pride and eventually, my tender ego was deflated.  Add to that a neurological issue diagnosed in my 30s causing tremors in my voice and I gave up singing for a while. It was a painful stripping of an identity I hadn’t realized I had clung to so fiercely.

After I was married, still not really knowing what I wanted to do, I enrolled in graduate school. Holding some identity also in “being smart,” I had always known higher education would be in my future. I was training to become a school psychologist. I also very much wanted to become a mother. I knew these two could coexist, but seeing things as very “all or nothing,” I struggled with the pieces of understanding how I could be good; rather, perfect at both. My identity felt at odds with itself.

When I had our first child, my outward achieving stopped for a while. I developed the slower pace of stay at home motherhood. Here I threw my perfectionist tendencies into overdrive, pouring my anxieties onto my tiny babe.  Was I doing this the “right” way?  If not, oh God, I’m screwing him up!  The struggle to identify myself as what I thought a mother should be was frightening and real.

After emerging from the fog of new parenthood, I then developed a hobby for pure enjoyment: painting and rearranging my house.  Friends and family took notice and I prized the recognition of a new identity forming: decorator. I ran with it, eventually creating a small business.  Was this now my identity? I decided to go all in: taking classes, ordering business cards, even making a website. I took comfort, dare I say, pride, in finding my thing.

After a while, I took on too much.  The work, impinging on my introverted self, also became a burden on my desire to still be a stay at home mother to my now three children. I felt resentful when I couldn’t be my version of perfect for both my family and my clients. The stress was hard on both my home and marriage. I was disappointed in myself but also relieved in admitting my need to pull back.

So here I am now. I still decorate, though in a smaller way than I once imagined. I’m still a wife and mother of course.  I’m even singing again- every Sunday morning along with my husband, for a group of eager and antsy first and second graders.  I have no labels or job descriptions to succinctly tell you who I am or what I can do.  Looking back though I can now see the thread running through every turn in my life.  It’s always been the same, because it has always been me.  I still bear the same sin struggles, the same personality, the same weaknesses and strengths.  I am the same soul.  Whether I have been singing, mothering, in school, decorating, it has always been me.  And at times I found myself wondering… is it enough?  Am I enough?

I’ve been studying the enneagram lately.  I’m not sure if you’re familiar with it, but it’s really just a tool, similar to anything else that can help you know yourself better, like seeing a therapist or reading a book on personal growth.  It teaches the importance of knowing yourself fully– the good, the bad, and the ugly.  It’s an uncomfortable act of faith- to bring into light the sins you bear, but also (at times equally uncomfortable) to develop compassion and grace for yourself, seeing and loving yourself as God does.

So how would my life change if I could fully and daily embrace that truth- that God loves me entirely, imperfect as I am?  So much so that Christ died for me while I was (am) still a sinner (Romans 5:8)? How much more would I be able to love others when, freed from the trap of perfectionism, I could set aside my own needs for approval and acknowledgement?  I could lay down comparisons, defensiveness, and pride.  How healing this is- this embracing of the gospel message in my own identity: as a beloved child of God.

This very struggle is what I think it means to contend for my faith; to work out my salvation with both fear and trembling (Phillippians 2:12).  Sometimes I want contending to look more like a sword fight- a big battle fought and won, once and for all.  But I think it is more quiet and small, done in hidden and daily stillness before the Lord.  Seeking His wisdom; His love.

I cannot do this on my own, because truthfully many days I find myself unable, un-remembering to even cry out from the very outset of the morning. I start to again believe the lie that it would be easier to have a job title or task to hide behind:  “I’ll serve you in this way, Lord!”

And this is why I need Him. Oh, I need Him.  Every hour I need Him.  He has entrusted to us the gospel, this good news of love and redemption through Christ.  This message is not only to be received once and then shared, but also to be remembered over and over in our own lives- we are loved. May we seek Him and may we cry out to Him, for our healing and for His glory.

Lost & Found: A Story of Identity

About Bethany

Bethany Dufilho has been married to Paul for 13 years and they have three children ages 9, 7, and 4. They live in Katy, TX where she is a stay at home mom and part time interior decorator. She is a lover of beauty and a seeker of Truth and occasionally blogs over at thehouseoffigs.com. There you can read about her adventures in decorating and hear the heart behind her beauty with a purpose philosophy.

About Bethany

Final thoughts…

We’ve been given gospel identities, rooted deeply in perfect Love. May Bethany’s story remind us all that Love is greater than our doubts, fears, and insecurities. I love how she describes contending as a quiet, hidden wrestling of soul. As God transforms us into the image of His Son, may we remember that our faith is a precious gift to nurture, protect, and defend.

Grab your free download of Jude1:20-21 right here.

Follow me on Facebook and tune in for live videos every Wednesday at noon (Central Time).  Let’s meet midday/midweek to talk more about how we can contend for the faith. You can watch this week’s video here.

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Dream With Hope: Redeemed Ministries

Jesus invites us to dream with hope.

God has placed a beautiful dream in my heart, a dream so big it hurts to contemplate. I long to see captives set free in Jesus’ name, for women who’ve only known oppression to feel the warmth of their Father’s love on their radiant faces. I long to see God’s word raise up a generation of powerful voices to speak Truth to broken hearts. More than anything else, I dream of the day Light penetrates the darkness forever.

Perhaps you’ve dreamed this very same dream.

Slavery has been reflected in mankind’s infrastructure ever since the Fall, but the prophet Isaiah’s words rang a freedom bell: I have come to set the captives free. Jesus initiated His ministry here on earth with those same powerful words. Human-trafficking has never been outside His reach.

Lately, I’ve found myself stuck in the waiting.  As I strain to see the beautiful dream through the frustration and fear, I question whether I have what it takes to make a difference in this fight. My voice sounds so very small, and some days, this dream seems hopelessly impossible.

In God’s word I discover camaraderie with another dreamer and the hope my souls craves.

Simon’s profession required him to wait. The day Jesus showed up in Simon’s life was a day like every other. He was mending his nets in the early morning light after a long, unsuccessful night out on the water. Jesus told Simon to put the boat back into deep water and let the nets down again. It made absolutely no sense.

Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.” (Luke 5:5) The number of fish caught that day was so great that the nets began to break. The boat could hardly hold the miracle. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” (Luke 5:10b)

Simon traded his broken nets for a dream.

Continue reading over at the Redeemed Ministries blog…

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We Are One

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.  Ephesians 2:19-21

Hurricane Harvey left devastating loss in its wake. Yet according to Paul, individual loss does not exist. Every loss is collective loss because we are one. To those who’ve lost everything: Your loss is our loss; your grief is our grief.

We are together in the tragedy and recovery.

As the Church, we are not members of a country club or social club; we are members of God’s household, each with specific roles moving forward from this storm. Paul calls us fellow citizens with rights and privileges because Jesus has given the Church the keys to His kingdom.

We Are One

Ephesus was the hub for worship of the fertility goddess, Artemis. The temple of Artemis was about one mile from the city of Ephesus and eventually became one of the Seven Wonders of the World.

In a class of its own, made entirely of marble, it boasted more than 100 columns over 55 feet high and a platform area that covered over two acres. Paul holds up this well-known icon of elegance to a greater temple, one unlike anything they’ve ever imagined.

Made of living stones, the Church is a holy temple that lives and breathes and acts as one.

Ephesus was a wealthy city no different than many cities here in the United States. The people learned to build on lots of different foundations other than the gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul’s original audience was extremely familiar with ritualistic worship; their decision to follow Jesus had only recently removed them from its grip.

To counteract the prevalent influence of Artemis, Paul repeats himself over and over throughout his letter. Ephesians 1:3-14 is one long sentence in the original Greek. Our English translations divide it up into 12 verses to make it more readable. Ten times in one breath Paul repeats the phrase in Him or in Christ.

In Christ is everything, and apart from Him is nothing.

More than ever, we need the God who grieves with us in our heartbreak; we need to hear the stories of those who have lost everything yet still have it all. In the wake of this devastating disaster where what many thought would secure them has failed, the Church tells this story.

In Paul’s day, the cornerstone—that perfectly shaped stone—acted as a modern blueprint. It served as a model for every other stone in the structure. Stones, whose edges didn’t quite align, had their rough edges smoothed so that they became one seamless whole.

Paul uses the phrase “grows into” (or in another translation, “rises to become”) to stress that together we are stronger. This is the Greek word auxano. We get our English word augment from this word, meaning to enlarge in size, number, strength, or extent.

God joins us to strengthen us.

This is happening in our community. Denomination lines blur and agendas lose their value. Nothing matters more than moving forward together. God is using tragedy and suffering to smooth out our jagged edges so that the Church can act as one to meet needs, love our neighbors, and reflect Jesus.

Everyone who hears these words of mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock. Matthew 7:24-25

Jesus loves you,

Kelly

If you are in need of help or if you are looking for a way to get involved in the local recovery effort, please click here for some excellent resources.

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The War of Awe

A theme of conflict pulses through the book of Daniel. War, opposition, power struggle. Kingdom against kingdom. I notice the spiritual battle that surrounds me, and with God’s help, I begin to recognize the war within me.

My heart is the battle ground where flesh opposes Spirit. All I want to do is look away, look away because it’s too personal, too much. Spiritual growth is spiritual warfare, and the is struggle intense.

In his book, Awe: Why It Matters for Everything We Think, Say, and Do, Paul David Tripp says that sin has made us not only lawbreakers, but awe breakers as well.

“Sin captures and redirects the motivational system of our hearts. Sin changes how our hearts operate… We exchange awe of Creator for awe of created… most fundamentally awe of self.”

War of Awe

Daniel 10 is a lead-in to the final vision of what’s to come for the people of God and for the end of time. 

In the third year of Cyrus king of Persia a word was revealed to Daniel, who was named Belteshazzar. And the word was true, and it was a great conflict. And he understood the word and had understanding of the vision. Daniel 10:1

It takes several reads to recognize Daniel’s name assigned to him by his captors, Belteshazzar. I think it’s intended to remind us that he is not free. Daniel is still in exile, in bondage; he has yet to be delivered.

God uses exile as a means to restoration.

God has given us hearts to know Him; He restores our hearts in this ongoing struggle between awe of self and awe of God. Tripp says, “Spiritual growth is about recapturing your awe.”

Reading through the book of Daniel this summer, I’ve seen the physical conflict between the kingdom of God and the kingdoms of this world. The turmoil in Daniel’s visions mirrors the nightly news feed and reminds me of the ongoing unseen battle.

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. Galatians 5:16-17

In Christ, the flesh no longer controls us; the Spirit leads us instead. Jesus said in Luke 9:23, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” Daily. We die to self daily. Though our eternal rescue is complete, we look to Jesus to daily rescue us from ourselves.

What God begins, He finishes.

My flesh longs to worship self; the Spirit knows my heart needs to worship God alone. It’s a power struggle called sanctification. It’s an all-out war between the kingdom of me and the Kingdom of God, and I want this war to end.

Jesus Christ has personally carried me from victim to victor. He has made a way—the only way—for this enemy of God to become a child of God. And in the very end, He will win this war of awe.

God recaptures our awe through an ongoing, grace-filled, intimate relationship with us. He created us to live utterly and completely enthralled by Him, and the Spirit gives us everything we need to intimately know Him.

A friend asked me recently to pray that God would light a fire in her to live for Him alone. I told her it would be my absolute honor to pray with her. This prayer reveals humility and an understanding that all we have to do is ask God to do what we cannot do for ourselves.

None of us can spark our own fires.

I can’t. You can’t. The Spirit is our fire, our sanctifier. The realization that sin has hijacked our awe can overwhelm, especially if you’re like me, and you’re just waiting for Jesus to give up on you, because you would’ve given up on you ages ago. This beautiful prayer invites us to turn to God instead and ask Him to do what we cannot do for ourselves.

Spark a fire in me. Keep the fire going. Kindle the flame when it starts to fade.

Jesus loves you,

Kelly

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God at Work Within the Unchangeable

If you are faithful, expect enemies. The sixth chapter of Daniel opens with this in-your-face truth. If you’re a child of the King, you are a threat to the kingdom of darkness. Daniel’s enemies were accusers, and so is ours.

We’ve been studying the book of Daniel at church all summer long. Week after week, every story narrated, every vision revealed, every dream interpreted points to the rising conflict between the kingdom of God and the kingdoms of this world. This tension will reach a fever pitch at Christ’s first coming, and again at His second coming.

We live in the space between. 

King Darius, desiring power and position, made a rule that all must bow and worship him for thirty days. Daniel continued praying, worshipping, believing and trusting the living God. Daniel did what he’d always done, and the story reaches its climax as he stands accused and gets tossed into a den full of hungry lions.

I tend to read through this story and forget it really happened. These were real lions, real hungry lions that had their mouths shut by God. Scripture doesn’t say God filled their stomachs and satisfied their appetites. It only says He shut their mouths. These weren’t sweet cats purring all night long. They were angry and frustrated and confused. And still very, very hungry.

We live in a metaphorical lion’s den.

Daniel, prompted by prayer, exhibited gratitude in the middle of a horrible life-or-death situation. King Darius, stressed out and anxiety-ridden, decided in his own strength to try and rescue Daniel himself.

Before you get all tender-hearted for this hero-wanna-be, I’m pretty sure Darius’ rescue mission had to do with losing his best man, a key figure in his administration. The chapter opens with his great plans to promote Daniel to an even higher position. So, this had nothing to do with Daniel; this was about Darius and all he stood to lose if Daniel became dinner for some lions.

Darius could not deliver Daniel. In the meantime, Darius began spinning out of control. He was not only sleepless and peaceless, he was flat-out hopeless.

Daniel exhibited hope and peace. Paul said in 1 Thessalonians 4:13, “We do not grieve as those without hope.” We still grieve, but we have living hope. Faith helps us recognize the character of God when the all the world can see are the circumstances.

Our response is evidence of our faith.

When Daniel received bad news, he gave thanks. Daniel wasn’t thanking God for the bad news; he just knew there were plenty of reasons to give thanks based on God’s character rather than his circumstances. Gratitude prompted peace in his heart.

But if we walk away only hearing a try-harder, have-more-faith pep talk, we’ve missed the point entirely. These things—hope, peace, gratitude, faithfulness—aren’t ingredients for the perfect recipe for righteousness or a remedy for sin.

The recipe for righteousness and the remedy for sin has always been and will always be Jesus. Just Jesus.

These characteristics represent the visible fruit that comes from an invisible but thriving faith in a God who is greater than our circumstances. They depict how deeply our character changes when we put on the righteousness of Christ. Hope and peace and joy point to Christ within us.

It’s not about the size or the quality of our faith; it’s about the object of our faith. Mustard seed faith is all we need, Jesus says, as long as that faith is fixed on Him. As long as long He is the object of our faith.

As a young man Daniel relied on God not his circumstances. He is an old man at this point in his life, and this chapter reminds my heart that fruit takes time. Transformation is a gradual process.

Faith in God may not change every set of circumstances, but our faith in Christ over time changes us.

I remember when we got pregnant for the first time. We had tried for over three years at that point to conceive and infertility had left battle wounds all over my heart. My faith felt shaky, but we celebrated our hearts out, clueless that more heartbreak was right around the corner. We told everyone our news.

And then I miscarried.

Sitting in our living room, surrounded by devastation, my husband and I discussed how we would un-tell all these people. I remember so vividly this conversation with my husband, because God used him to speak truth into my life. I asked him, “What are we going to tell people?”

He looked right at me and said, “We’ll tell them God is good.”

My husband’s words to me were evidence of God at work within his heart, at work within our heart-breaking circumstances. His response was evidence of his faith. What will we tell them? We will tell them that God is good, because He is.

Even when circumstances aren’t good, God is still good. God’s goodness does not fluctuate because He does not change; He cannot change. God is constant.

Daruis’ signature on the decree meant Daniel’s situation could not be altered. Irrevocable. The stone at the mouth of the lion’s den and the king’s seal also indicated an unchangeable situation.

Daniel recognized His unchangeable God in the middle of his unchangeable circumstances.

Daniel knew nothing could change God. Nothing.  Not persecution or slander or oppression or rejection or accusation or life in a hostile culture. Not even a den full of lions. This incredible story highlights three aspects of God’s character that will never change.

God’s plan to rescue and redeem and restore cannot be altered.

King Darius was a powerful king, but he was powerless to change Daniel’s situation. The king’s plan involved keeping Daniel from the lion’s den altogether, but God’s rescue mission involved entering the lion’s den Himself.

God’s pursuit of us will never diminish.

God’s love fuels His plan. We are pursued and lavishly loved by God. Love prompted Jesus to willingly enter the dark, sin-infested pit of this world to suffer and serve and confront the lion. It was for love—so that we might live with God in an ongoing relationship forever and ever. Moved by a love that’s unchanging, God paid the price that we never could.

The power of the Holy Spirit within us cannot be revoked.

God promises the gift of His Spirit to all who believes in Jesus as an irrevocable deposit. His Spirit within us is proof of His promise. No matter how hard life gets, no matter how far we fall, God has promised He will never remove His Spirit.  This same Spirit was strong enough to shut the mouths of hungry lions and raise Jesus from the dead.  That’s the power at work within us!

God didn’t remove the threat from Daniel’s life; He rendered the threat powerless over Daniels’ life. The lions remained a part of Daniel’s story, but the lions could never overpower God.

We live in a metaphorical lion’s den. 1 Peter 5:8 says that our “enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” Our enemy will try to scare us into compromise, or get us to settle, back down, or stay in bondage, but he can’t touch our souls. He cannot harm us.

The lion is part of our story, but God has revealed how the story will end.

The conclusion of Daniel’s experience in the lion’s den mirrors Paul’s description of the very, very end for all who have claimed their salvation in Christ:

So Daniel was taken up out of the den, and no harm was found on him, because he had trusted in his God. Daniel 6:23 (emphasis mine)

Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. 1 Thessalonians 4:17

Jesus will return, and when He does, we will be lifted out of the lion’s den. Until then, God’s unchanging plan, pursuit, and power remind us that He is with present, working all things together for our good and His glory.

May we embrace the promises of a God who never changes even as we are dealt heartbreaking disappointments. Let us give thanks, in all circumstances, especially the unfavorable ones.

May we cling to the One who holds in His hand the whole mess of our lives and every broken way we take, the only One able to rescue and deliver us. May we rest in the companionship of Jesus, knowing that no matter what unfolds in the here and now, His love will usher us into eternity blameless and unscathed.

Jesus loves you,

Kelly

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{HER STORY} 07: He Calls Me Beautiful

With one hand, she smoothed the wrinkles out of the powder blue culottes her grandmother handmade; with her other, she clutched her lunchbox. Her sister, now a fourth grader, had worn the same embroidered outfit when she started school years before. She found her name printed on a desk near the front of the room and admired each neat, evenly spaced letter. Julie.

When a boy nearby glanced her way, she returned his gaze with a polite smile. He pointed to the spots on her arms and legs and asked, “What are those?” Until that moment, she had never considered the moles that sprinkled her pale skin. But in that tender moment, Julie’s heart began to believe a lie.

This is her story…

He Calls Me Beautiful

By junior high, the lie that something was innately wrong with her had fully taken root. Underneath Julie’s skin was a heartsick girl who longed to know she was beautiful and worthy of love. One day in English class, the boy who sat in front of her turned around and said, “You are so ugly.”

“I know,” she said, her response both automatic and devastating.

As adolescence faded into adulthood, self-loathing became habitual.

Depression clung to her like a wet raincoat. Other than shame, sadness was the only emotion she allowed herself to embrace. “I was addicted to sadness; I actually welcomed the feeling, because at least then I felt something.”

Hopelessness sprouted up through the cracks in her broken heart. Julie clung tightly to a false and distorted image of herself. “I was ashamed of who I was, but I also felt shame in having needs,” she told me. She didn’t trust God with her needs, so she worked hard not to have any. And over time, something inside broke under the weight of that lie.

Shame stole her voice, and voicelessness soon bled into powerlessness. Drowning in despair, she contemplated taking her own life. Months trudged on until she reached the final decision to end it all. As she worked out every detail, she found that the mechanics of it all brought her hope, hope that there was a way out of her pain. God rescued her that day, from the false hope and the false identity and the false life.

It took her years to comprehend the depth of this rescue.

She couldn’t follow through with her plan, yet she couldn’t speak her pain. Not yet anyway. She tucked her secret away, convinced there was no way to let it come into the light. Six years went by as depression crushed her soul blow by blow. She was living but barely surviving. She didn’t believe joy even existed.

Eventually, she reached out for help. She surrendered her broken heart to Jesus and chose to believe He could heal her inside and out. God asked her to trust Him with her whole story so that He could reveal His glory through her pain.

Shame disguises itself as an irreversible personal flaw, but the light of the glory of God exposes shame for what it is: a universal need for redemption. As Julie began to acknowledge her shame, God not only healed those areas of her life, but He began to redeem them as well.

Hidden underneath her shame was a girl who just desperately wanted to be herself.

Julie identifies with the woman in Mark 5, whose physical and emotional pain led to spiritual freedom. This woman bled for twelve agonizing years. She suffered and spent every ounce of devotion and every penny to her name trying to find a cure for what was wrong with her. The blood kept her isolated, and the lies kept her silent.

One day, out of options and out of hope, she decided to reach out to Jesus as He came through her town. As soon as she touched the back of His robe, her bleeding stopped. But Jesus had more for her than physical healing; He had come for her heart. Jesus looked and searched and waited for this desperate woman to come out into the open, to bring her story into His light. “Who touched me?” he asked. Slowly, she came.

When she fell at His feet, she told her story. All of it. 

Jesus’ words reached the deepest part of her and absolved her from the shame that kept her heart hidden, silent, and chained. “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.” Mark 5:34

For years Julie searched for a way out. For a way out of hopelessness and depression, for a way out of her pain. She discovered that the only real way out was through a relationship with Jesus—the Way, the Truth, and the Life. His love led her into a brand-new life where joy exists and hope is alive.  Over time, Julie learned to replace each lie with God’s truth.

She learned to dance by trusting Jesus one small step at a time.

Recently, during a long weekend hike with her husband, God brought to Julie’s mind the memory of a little girl ashamed of her moles. As God reminded her of His love for her, she came to an open field of vegetation blanketed with tiny red ladybugs. Overwhelmed by this rare scene, she listened and waited for God to speak.

Without their spots, they would just be beetles.

God whispered gently to her heart in the days that followed, Without their spots, they would just be beetles. The spots make them beautiful. You are beautiful, you are lovely, and you are Mine.

Page from Julie's art journal

A page from Julie’s art journal

God took Julie back to the place where that painful lie took root: her first day of Kindergarten. In a field of ladybugs, His truth drained every ounce of power from that lie she believed long ago. And God set her heart free.

Like the spots on those ladybugs, Julie began to understand that her unique need for Jesus makes her uniquely beautiful. She discovered that what makes us different also makes us beautiful.

Our need is neither ugly nor shameful; there is beauty in our need for Jesus.

What the enemy means for harm God uses for our good. He has transformed Julie’s struggle with shame into a precious gift of relatability. Like the woman in Mark 5, God healed Julie physically and emotionally, but He also freed her heart from shame.

Julie has exchanged the lies she once held close for the truth of an eternal hope in Jesus. Her power rests not in her ability to overcome, but in His power, the power that raised Jesus from the grave. He has redeemed her heart and reclaimed her voice to bring glory to His name.

God can use anything to communicate His love- even a tiny ladybug!

God can use anything to communicate His love… even a tiny ladybug!

For Julie, her physical pain has become a precious reminder that God redeems all things.

The moles on her skin mean nothing apart from the beautiful restoration He’s done in her heart.

Even the shame she once felt has been a gift from God, because it brought her face to face with Jesus, her Redeemer.

The glory of God is displayed when we reach the very end and then reach for Jesus.

The enemy uses shame to convince us that our brokenness disqualifies us, deems us unworthy of God’s love.

Only God can turn shame into beauty. The cross, the utmost symbol of shame, is a beacon of beauty and a representation of perfect love for all who trust in Jesus. Our wounds and scars and battle stories are precious evidence that we’ve been redeemed.

This story is so much more than a story of healing; it’s a story about God’s heart towards His children. From the deepest part of His relational heart, God calls us. “Beautiful daughter, you are Mine. Just as you are, you are Mine,” He says.

Because of Jesus, healing, forgiveness, restoration, and freedom are within our grasp. Because of Jesus, we are cherished children of God, precious in His sight, beautifully and eternally His.

“You are altogether beautiful, my darling; there is no flaw in you.” Song of Solomon 4:7

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A Resuscitation Story

Four words quickened tired hearts. Peace be with you! They had watched this man wash their dirty feet then take His last breath. Now, He stood before them with deep scars of love. Risen. Alive. Victorious.

No one expected this. The women at the tomb at dawn fully anticipated a dead body. Later that evening, Jesus’ closest companions huddled together in fear behind a locked door. Hopeless and despondent, they needed to be revived.

They forgot who Jesus was . . . and they forgot how to breathe.

Again, Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” (John 20:21-22)

As God breathed life into Adam, Jesus breathed His Spirit into man. Re-birth. Re-creation. Resuscitation.

Jesus’ instructions are beautifully simple: Receive Me, then go. No wonder I get so out of breath. My strength is never enough to go where he is sending me. But Jesus’ gift precedes His call.

There is a rhythm to breathing. It’s daily. In and out, in and out, in and out. Jesus said, “Freely you have received; freely give.” (Matthew 10:8b) This has become my prayer this Lenten season: Jesus, teach me to breathe freely so that my heart is not faint.

The state of my heart depends on the pattern of my breath.

God designed our bodies to follow this delicate balance. There is no giving, going, or serving without first receiving, accepting, embracing. There can be no loving others without first believing we are loved. In and out, in and out, in and out, the cadence of creation continues.

Breathing is vital to survival. Jesus resuscitates by giving us new breath—His breath. His power and peace activate new life. We are more than revived; we are a whole new creation.

Jesus wasn’t one bit surprised to find his closest followers hunkered down in despair. He knew the state in which He would find them in the days following His death. He knew the devastation. Without His breath in them, they would never have the power to overcome the doubt, grief, the nagging questions, or pride that convinced them they could step out alone.

Jesus told them again and again that He was sending them out as sheep among wolves, but He also warned them that the sheep of the flock—every single one of them—would scatter.

The survival of the flock depends on the care of the shepherd.

Shepherd and sheep share an intricate relationship. A shepherd leads his flock out to pasture, then brings them back into the fold, counting each under his rod. Once the flock is secure, he lays down across the threshold, acting as a gate to protect his sheep.

A Resuscitation Story

Jesus said, “I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture.” (John 10:9) In and out. In and out. We return to remember who He is—the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for His sheep; we step out in faith, believing we will find fullness in a life completely dependent on Him.

Jesus will not stop until all His lost sheep have been found. And that is where this bunch of ordinary men and women came in. And it’s where you and I will likely find our places as well.

When Jesus saw Peter, the one who denied He knew Jesus over and over, and over again, Jesus didn’t shame Peter or criticize him or even question him about that night. He had told Peter ahead of time that it would go down the way it did.

Listen to the gentle rhythm of this precious exchange between Shepherd and sheep:

 

Jesus: Do you love me?

Peter: Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.

Jesus: Feed my lambs.

 

Jesus: Do you love me?

Peter: Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.

Jesus: Take care of my sheep.

 

Jesus: Do you love me?

Peter: Lord, you know all things…. You know that I love you.

Jesus: Feed my sheep.

 

Jesus’ questioning had more to do with Jesus’ love for Peter than Peter’s love for Him. As Peter confessed, “Lord, you know all things,” he remembered who Jesus is.

Return to My love for you, Peter (breathe in). Step out for the sake of My sheep (breathe out). Breathe in, breathe out, breathe in, breathe out, breathe in, breathe out. Return, step out, return, step out, return, step out.

As who God is becomes more clearly defined in our lives, our breathing regulates. Our hearts no longer faint. When we step out, we choose to believe in who God is; we return to rest in His love. Rest and believe, rest and believe, rest and believe. This is the rhythm of following Jesus, the pulse of new life.

We are survivors, because we have His breath in us.

The Good Shepherd became the Perfect Lamb, sacrificed to purchase precious peace. And with the breath of God in them, those scattered sheep became shepherds of His flock.

Lord, show us where we’re running on the fumes of our own strength. Cultivate humility in our hearts as we return to you to remember who you are and whose we are. Show us where we’re holding our breath in fear. Give us fresh faith to recognize Your power within us. Regulate our breathing, resuscitate our lifelessness, and teach us to breathe freely. Thank you for the peace You’ve given us.

“Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.”  Hebrew 13:20-21

 

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