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“’Am I only a God nearby,’
declares the Lord,
‘and not a God far away?
Who can hide in secret places
so that I cannot see them?’”

– Jeremiah 23:23-24

Padlocked journals. Receipts tucked into a sock drawer. Deleted files. Disguised flasks. Shredded evidence. What happens in Sin City . . . behind our doors . . . outside the church . . . when we believe no one is watching us . . . allegedly remains our little secret.

Secrets range from embarrassing moments to treachery, from things we’ve done to those we should have. Some hidden facts seem innocuous, like an emotional struggle we’d rather not share. Other mysteries demand cover because we can bet others won’t help us justify the sin. Murderers feverishly cover their evidence, as do tax evaders, addicts, and adulterers.

Camouflage grants us confidence. We convince ourselves that no one sees, that the matter remains of no consequence at all. A cycle of shame and arrogance flips us between insecurity and justifying our cover.

When my boys were tots, they’d press their hands over their faces and declare, “You can’t see me.”

“Yes, my baby. I can still see you,” I’d assure them. I wanted to see their precious, beloved faces.

“No!” They insisted. “You can’t see me!”

Ah, the myth of our powerful hands. We have yet to outgrow the childish idea that we can cover our eyes and become invisible to our Father. While swirling in shame and pride over our sins, we miss the point of our relationship with Him. He adores our precious souls, and enjoys intimate face-time with us. Especially when our cheeks bear stolen cupcake grime and our noses bleed from playing in areas we shouldn’t have.

I resisted sharing my emotional struggles for years, believing they’d make me appear faithless. I didn’t want others to think less of Jesus because of my weaknesses.

“I see you.” The Lord pried up one of my fingers.

“Yes, I know. You must be very disappointed.” I peeked between my digits to glimpse His gentle, loving smile. “Can’t I just keep hiding anyway? It’s more comfortable here behind my hands.”

“Comfortable isn’t always best.” He tugged my pinky. “In order to see more of Me, you have to come out from hiding behind your hands.”

I gradually opened my palms. Transparency wasn’t a comfortable thing, but I offered a little at a time. I knew it would be a challenge, but I really did want to see more of my Father. Peeling back my hands required me to depend on His hands. And God revealed His presence in more ways than I imagined. Not only did the Lord exchange my frailty for healing, but He also used my story to lift others to see Him more clearly.

I had convinced myself of my power to hide, to avoid the risk of disclosure. The true risk, I discovered, was in keeping my secrets. The myth of locking away reality holds its believer in a dangerous lie. Pride and shame wielded authority over my purpose and identity instead of God’s power and grace. Not only could I have remained outside God’s perfect will, but hiding also withheld healing God intended to pour through my story into others’ lives. Darkness of locked boxes could have defined my life instead of God’s glory.

Maybe you have unconfessed secrets, too. Consider extending your confessions to the Father Who adores you. He transforms the darkest moments of life into a more powerful vessel of freedom than you can imagine. It’s hard to expose your heart, but I guarantee that His freedom and love are more than worth it. So are the lives of those who’ll be blessed in the wake of your new life of trust in Christ.

Will you pray with me, to become more yielded and open as He leads us? Let’s take Christ’s hands and encourage one another to become His vessels, bringing others to see Him a bit more each day.

“Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” (James 5:16).

“If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will hide me
    and the light become night around me,’
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
    the night will shine like the day,
    for darkness is as light to you. . .

Your eyes saw my unformed body;
    all the days ordained for me were written in your book
    before one of them came to be. . . 

Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:11-24).

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

– Philippians 4:6-7

Afternoon rays highlighted splatter-spots dappling my kitchen window. I corralled piles of dishes toward the sink. The third time since breakfast. My hands trembled as I scrubbed the grimy counter. Why is it always such a mess? Recurring, ugly streaks, just like my failures in business and publishing. I tossed the rag at the sill.

I marched out the front door with an announcement to any ears in range. “I’m going for a walk.”

As I strode under the oak canopy, I grasped the air at my side. “Walk with me, Jesus.”

My morning time of prostrate meditation remains a precious way to center myself before the day’s mission begins. Bedside prayer also offers great benefit, laying all needs and offenses in divine hands. Sometimes, I wrestle with overwhelming angst and need to break out of my conventions to better connect with God. Fresh perspective unstops the ears of my soul.

This common need resounds from world headlines to the soul cries of our neighbors–financial crises, illness, general household chaos. Circumstances shatter our peace. Life whirls around our heads, distracting us from intimacy with the Lord. In this tumultuous life, we need help centering our spirits in prayer.

Kelly O’Dell Stanley’s new book, Praying Upside Down, offers novel tools to uncork conversations with God. She expands our view of divine interaction beyond the formulaic ideas of conventional prayer. A graphic designer, she crafts an artistic pathway to spiritual intimacy. Her analogies and suggested applications prove easy upon a reader’s eye and attainable to a beginner’s soul.

Have you ever struggled to focus? Railed at the ceiling as if it were a blockade? Or felt your heart too overwhelmed to summon a prayer? Upside down experiences might just refresh your mind and reveal the path to renew your weary soul.

If you’re interested in Praying Upside Down, find out more information from Tyndale or check out Kelly O’Dell Stanley’s website http://www.prayingupsidedown.com/

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“Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume” (John 12:1-3).

Half the carrot harvest tumbled in the broth around chunks of their only lamb. Rich herb aromas billowed from the stew and pressed smiles into the sisters’ faces.

Mary patted Martha’s back. “You did a beautiful job, as always.”

“What better use of the food? I’d give Him all of it, if only we had more room at the table.” She stepped back from the kettle and peered into the next room. Eyes brimming, she laid a hand on her chest. “My heart leaps like a gazelle at the sight of Lazarus laughing alongside Him out there.”

Mary put an arm around her sister’s shoulders and gave her a quick squeeze. “Yes, we know how well the Lord cares for us. God will provide another lamb for Passover.”

As they ladled the extravagant meal into a pot, a refreshing cascade of peace washed over Mary. She felt joy and calm as if a divine breeze cooled her perspiration-drenched skin.

Steam filled Mary’s head covering, infusing her hair with rosemary fragrance as she carried the pot toward the reclining circle of men. Her brother’s charming smile warmed her heart. The familiar faces surrounding him included curious neighbors and cousins. The Teacher’s closest followers dominated the conversation with animated gestures and challenging remarks.

Mary’s gaze secured on one pair of callused feet. Extended from the table, the rough heels bore cracks from miles of travel. Bruises and insect stings framed the sides and toes. The battered, lovely feet of her Master and Teacher. She rested the pot on the table and glanced at His marvelous eyes. In their infinite depths, they seemed to bear a wistful gleam of both joy and care at once. Her Lord.

“Tell Martha she outdid herself,” Lazarus said.

Mary fled the table without responding. She sprinted, not to the kitchen, but to the sleeping quarters she shared with her sister. She grabbed a stick from the table and dropped to her knees at the room’s corner. Five hand-breadths from the wall, she hacked the earthen floor broke open. Mary reached into the cool hollow and wrapped her fingers around the chilled alabaster vessel inside. A treasure meant to seal her in marriage.

She clutched the vessel to her chest and stood, recalling how she once considered this the only thing of value she possessed. Tears careened over the rising apples of her cheeks as she raced into the main room. There they were. The priceless feet of her Lord.

Mary knelt. The conversation buzzed on as the men gave little notice to the one so often drawn to the Master’s feet. The vessel trembled in her grip. Fingers slippery with tears, she broke its neck. The crack of alabaster silenced the room. Her chest burned as she poured her heart out with its contents. Mary drenched every beautiful, bruised inch of those feet with the rich oil. The overflow soaked the tattered hem of His garment. Her eyes blurred as she kissed the blisters on his toes.

More. Her core ached with adoration.

She tore the covering from her head. Untethering her locks, she wrapped them around his soles. Pressing, patting her hair against the magnificent feet of her Savior.

Not everyone enjoyed the overpowering rush of nard at dinnertime. The scent’s strength qualified it to perfume the dead. Most of the guests waited for Jesus’ reaction. Except the one most offended by heartfelt praise. Judas dwelt outside the capacity to appreciate sacrifice, to give or accept divine love, or to understand the fragrance of true discipleship.

As Easter approaches, the opportunity to pour our heart’s treasures onto the Lord’s feet dawns before us. Our worship will be unique in nature. However it looks for each of us, all genuine adoration flows with abandon. Nothing we could hold back compares in value to the One Who offers Himself so fully to us.

The fragrance of our love and commitment for Christ will fill the air around us. The impact lingers and spreads. No one can deny such a compelling effect, for it seems to cover the stench of death so common in the rest of the world. Not everyone will enjoy or understand it. Some will find our aroma offensive.

When others shame or ridicule our extravagant love for the Lord, we can assure ourselves that we’re in good company. They found Jesus offensive, too.

Let’s pray for tho who remain outside to grow appreciative of sacrifice, to accept divine love in order to pay it forward, and to comprehend at last the divine fragrance of true discipleship. And through all, keep that strong fragrance pouring forth.

“children running and shouting through the Temple, ‘Hosanna to David’s Son!’ . . . Jesus said, ‘Yes, I hear them. And haven’t you read in God’s Word, ‘From the mouths of children and babies I’ll furnish a place of praise’?’” (Matthew 21:15-16).

Easter dawned on the horizon as Christ marched through formidable gates to redeem His house of worship. With every step across the courts of women and Gentiles He manifested God’s presence among those furthest removed from the holy place. In strode the One Who would make all things new.

The resident authorities balked at change. The current state of worship served their lifestyle of disdain and exclusion. Sizable gifts impressed them, not whether men offered them from their hearts. The swindling of poor worshipers failed to prick their conscience. Priests and politicians shared the drink of corruption. The Temple rulers shrugged away such apostasies.

But, oh, those children.

Jesus foreknew the Temple purification would meet resistance. Sanctification always does. He took time to weave a whip, readying His physical instrument as He prepared for battle against unseen forces. While we don’t know the inner details of this quiet time, Christ maintained perfect concordance with His Father throughout His life. That He prayed during these moments requires little conjecture.

God’s maelstrom thundered across the Temple as He flipped wooden tables over onto the stone floors. Merchants pawed across the marble tiles to recover spilled coins. Christ’s whip cracked over their heads and spurred them to flee the halls. His voice echoed off the smooth walls, declaring the purpose of His Father’s House. And His task was not yet complete.

Sanctification requires more than cleansing filth away.

Enter those relentless little worshipers. As the children ran through the Temple, the Lord used their praises to help cleanse the Temple by renewing its divine purpose. It wasn’t enough to stop doing wrong. The right type of worship had to fill God’s house again. Worship like a child who loves the Lord.

Scripture defines Christians as “temples of the Holy Spirit” (1Corinthians 6:19). Just as the driving out of money changers represented something larger in need of removal from the place of worship, our lives tend to harbor elements that don’t belong. Our sin nature clings to its corrupt old ways and resists change. Despite human and supernatural opposition, Christ’s sanctification can renew our lives. If we submit to His ongoing work of transformation, He drives out residing powers that don’t belong. Pride, selfishness, all manner of sinful strongholds flee out of the halls with a pathetic squeal.

A purged Temple isn’t fully cleansed yet. After the Lord relieves my soul of a nasty attitude, renewed purpose must complete His work. I need to reorient my spirit and fill the cleansed spaces with the worship He desires. Whether He prescribes certain actions or a discipline of stillness, complete renewal means submitting to renewed purpose. I must worship Him with the relentless praise of a devoted child.

Not childish, but child like. Knowing my utter dependence upon Him, yet comfortable that He carries me. Filled with awe and wonder. Accepting the unexplained. Believing without seeing. Trusting with all my soul. Loving Him with all my heart.

Will you join me in worship today, accepting the royal status as His transformed child?

 Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.’ When he had placed his hands on them, he went on from there” (Matthew 19:14-15).

“‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me'” (Matthew 18:3-5).

The gymnast springs from the mat to the impossible bars above. Her willowy form flips in an artful spiral through the air. Gasps rise from the arena as the routine mounts toward her final moment. She whirls from the heights and unfolds her legs. The entire performance depends on the ending impact. Her heels stick the landing with grace. A roar of applause echoes around her.

I’ve long admired the grace of gymnasts. I bear all the clumsiness of a Lucille Ball character, without the intentionality. Just this week, I bumped my head emptying the dishwasher and busted my thumb vacuuming. Someone asked if I planned to go ice skating this winter. I tried not to snort while guffawing in response to that one. Good thing my parents had second thoughts about giving me the middle name, Grace. The irony would’ve been overwhelming to bear for a lifetime.

If anyone needs grace, I do. I wish it were only a matter of poor coordination, but I’ve demonstrated clumsiness of the soul as well. No matter how much I’d like to hide my scrapes, I have stumbled over my selfishness and pride plenty of times this year. Worries tripped me. I tangled a knot of criticism into my hair a couple of times. Annoyance choked me with more intensity than the infinity scarf which took half a day to figure out.

What a mess of snot and frizz I’d be if I tried to stick a graceful landing! Or, as the apostle Paul put it, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24-25).

Thank God I don’t have to depend on a flawless performance for a perfect outcome. I vault into my life’s path with the intent of obeying God’s will. One moment, my spirit soars in beautiful alignment with His. Then my focus wobbles. Christ offers me the grace I lack. He draws my mind and heart back into synch with His. With each day’s prayers of heartfelt repentance, I seek His grace. Awkward girl that I am, God knows I need it often. And Jesus promises I can count on it for a beautiful ending. Thankfully, He’s always willing to correct my straying flip and make that impossible landing happen with His perfect grace.

As we approach the end of one year and peek into the next year’s performance, will you share my confidence in His sufficient grace? Let’s look forward to ending and starting anew with the perfect outcomes of Christ in center focus. The applause of a “great cloud of witnesses” will fill the kingdom as we stick that heavenly landing.

May the redeeming power of our Savior bless your New Year’s celebrations and all of 2015.

“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,  and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:23-24).

because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus,  in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace . . . For it is by grace you have been saved,through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—  not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:4-10).

 “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. . . For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. . . . What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:15-25).

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith” (Hebrews 12:1).

We landed in Manhattan in search of great Christmas cheer. We strode among holiday shoppers and dined beside neighborly locals. Our eyes sparkled in the brilliance of tree lights and glamorous storefronts. Unbeknownst to us, a shadow rolled across the city. In the midst of preparing for the celebration of a Savior, darkness mounted its forces.

In the days before our arrival, hate-mongers stirred protesters to steam through those icy streets. Fists raised, a rally cry rose for murder. Blood thirst escalated and snatched up souls dangling near its edges. A fatal stabbing hit the news. Two officers fell prey to an ambush. Assassinations culminated in paranoia and division. With a stench far weightier than smog, resentment poisoned the air.

Media didn’t notify us first. The impact touched us through personal stories as we met people. The woman who sat with us on the plane told us about her son’s overtime demands. Nine to twelve hour shifts with little sleep between them. She shared her worries over her son and daughter, NYPD officers. A young man in the airport told us his friend was stabbed to death over the weekend. The report on television brought him the sad news. We visited mass at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral Sunday morning, where the priest said he learned of the assassination from sorrow-laden officers during the previous night’s event. So many lives burned by evil.

Each word, touch, and gesture ripples out with influence on other lives around it. I’ll risk overstating the obvious with a new and much-needed declaration: We don’t need any more hatred. Our scarred and fear-riddled world needs an infusion of love. The night has raged far too long, and our shuddering souls ache for light.

Let’s invite the Light of the World to shine through and among us. Adopt rally cries of love and peace. Seek healing and unity instead of vengeance. Lower our fists and reach out to clasp hands. Pray for our neighbors until we see enemies as brothers and sisters in God’s family. Sound impossible? Only if we attempt it without God’s strength to make all things new.

The same Christ born into mad King Herod’s kingdom of paranoia and violence remains available to us today. He drew into one family the poor outcasts along with corrupt tax collectors. His teachings about love culminated in one equalizing point–the cross. He rent His body to make way for an otherwise impossible redemption, reconciling us with a holy God.

In Christ, we can reconcile with one another. No gap remains too wide for His outstretched arms to bridge. Even our modern “people walking in darkness” can see a great light. We who know the Light must step up and share it with others. Will you join me in reflecting the ultimate Star this Christmas?

“the people living in darkness
    have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
    a light has dawned” (Matthew 4:16).

“The people walking in darkness
    have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
    a light has dawned” (Isaiah 9:2).

The sanctuary’s music and message fade the instant I see one. They snatch my attention from intimate conversations. Even the deepest gloom cannot hold my focus while these remain in view. The immediate and thorough captivation brings me no guilt. I’m convinced God designed infants to draw our attention.

Though many ancient cultures dismissed the influence of youth, children signified divine favor. God’s people discouraged little ones from demanding undue attention, but Scripture related other notions about new lives. Psalm 127 describes children as a heritage and reward from the Lord. Psalm 8 indicates the Lord empowers the praises of youth to defeat evil. This verse appears twice, repeated by the ultimate fulfillment of infant significance.

Isaiah prophesied peace under the leadership of this holy child, the Messiah. Jesus’ birth enraptured the angels, detoured on-duty shepherds, and compelled wise men hundreds of miles to bestow gifts upon him. He drove the corrupt to distraction while inspiring awe in the repentant. Hardened fishermen, prostitutes, and zealots–along with all of us sinners–would receive a miraculous opportunity of transformation into wellsprings of God’s love. And it all began with an infant’s birth.

So each time a tiny foot or petal-soft cheek snares my attention, I remind myself of the divine engineering behind these precious distractions. We’re meant to pay attention to infants, and our primary life-focus should turn forever toward the One born to free all who choose to allow their hearts to be captivated by His presence.

Thank You, Father, for the most transforming gift of the Christ child, born for us and in us. Thank You, Lord Jesus, for laying aside Your heavenly crown to bring Christmas to our sinful hearts. Let us be easily and thoroughly distracted by You in all seasons.

“You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will call His name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High, . . .The Holy Spirit will come upon you . . .Therefore, the holy One to be born will be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:31-35).

“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).

“The wolf will live with the lamb,
and the leopard will lie down with the goat.
The calf, the young lion, and the fatling will be together,
and a child will lead them” (Isaiah 11:6).

“Let the little children come to Me, and don’t stop them, because the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I assure you: Whoever does not welcome the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” (Luke 18:16)

“Sons are indeed a heritage from the Lordchildren, a reward” (Psalm 127:3).

“Through the praise of children and infants
    you have established a stronghold against your enemies,
    to silence the foe and the avenger” (Psalm 8:2).

Snowflakes dove from high clouds, mimicking their northern sisters who had successfully decorated the landscape for Christmas. Tropical breezes dissolved the flurry into tiny droplets. The parched earth embraced the saturated air. Glimmering mist kissed tree trunks, leaves, and noses of all who turned out to receive it. Heaven’s dew returned to bless the pleading world with an affectionate, I mist you…

While setting up Christmas lights today, I squinted to see a silvered version of neighboring homes. Though too fine for my eyes to see, the water’s effect remained undeniable. No matter how I might try to ignore the moisture, it enveloped me. I walked across the glistening lawn to get an extension cord. The yellowed grass squeaked a chorus of praise beneath my soles. Ah, how water revives and transforms our perspective when we feel the need for its quenching power.

The fine mist thickened within an hour. We could no longer ignore the rain’s presence. I prayed over my husband’s footsteps on the slick rooftop and ladder. And marveled at the promises spoken through our tropical flurry. The message of Christmas reigns over the world, despite its attempts to deny the true presence of Living Water.

We could look for Christmas at the mall, on Hollywood screens, or in the platitudes of cheery cards and carols. The marketplace attempts to whet our appetites for celebration, but fails to quench our thirst for life. Many feel estranged and disenchanted from this plasti-perfect requiem to build happy facades with our good fortune. Misfortune seems out of place among ‘the holidays,’ but the Lord crafted Christmas for those with no hope left in the world.

Christ laid aside his royal splendor to take the helpless form of a human infant. Born in a barn. To a homeless and outcast couple. Among people so oppressed and heavily taxed by foreign government that they could barely afford to eat. In a world starved of good news or any word from God. Despair, crippling diseases, and chronic illness ravaged the nation. Corruption infiltrated governments and worship leaders. The parched earth cried out for God’s presence. Jesus poured Himself into the midst of the horror. He starved, endured betrayal, and suffered unfathomable pain. He walked hundreds of country and back-alley miles to offer the quenching presence of God to remain with us forever. He didn’t spare a single drop of His life.

As the world’s thirsty plea for hope rings on today, Jesus still offers the fullness of Himself to slake our deficiencies. He refreshes our dusty flesh-state and revives our souls. Christ descends on us like gentle, yet saturating mist. Even when we fail to notice, His presence envelops us and all our circumstances. Hardships lighten in the silvery mist of eternal hope. Our strength renews, and we no longer feel as if we bear our burdens alone. Unlimited joy seasons the breezes from beyond the horizon, where our destined home holds an eternity free from problems. Heaven awaits as our next step, and the Author of Life promises to walk alongside us on the way there. We can stretch out our arms and sing in the glimmering rain.

As Living Water transforms our vision, we recognize those withering neighbors who need to hear the songs of heaven’s dew. This Christmas, will you join me in reaching out to offer a sip of refreshing hope to those who thirst? Be part of of the flurry. May Christmas pour Christ’s blessings through you until the world shimmers.

 

“The poor and needy search for water,
    but there is none;
    their tongues are parched with thirst.
But I the Lord will answer them;
    I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them” (Isaiah 41:17).

 

“In the time of my favor I will answer you,
    and in the day of salvation I will help you. . .They will neither hunger nor thirst. . .Then you will know that I am the Lord;
    those who hope in me will not be disappointed” (Isaiah 49:8-23).

“Therefore, ‘they are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence.

‘Never again will they hunger;
    never again will they thirst.
The sun will not beat down on them,’
    nor any scorching heat.
 For the Lamb at the center of the throne
    will be their shepherd;
‘he will lead them to springs of living water.’
    ‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes’” (Revelation 7:15-17).

“He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them. And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.  Today. . . a Savior has been born to you. . . This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger’” (Luke 2:5-12).

“whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14).

 

“Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty'” (John 6:35).

The world headlines scream with grueling details of torture and slaying of helpless innocents. The nation roils as hateful chants billow across a land erupting with violence. Local newscasts reveal cases of abuse and oppression lurk behind neighboring doors, too. Disease, poverty, and despair buzzes throughout the social media posts and text messages we receive from our loved ones. Misery’s intensifying din bloodies our ears.

Longfellow’s hymn penned during the Civil War echoes into our modern lives with eerie relevance.

“And in despair I bowed my head
‘There is no peace on earth,’ I said,
‘For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.’”1

A hundred and fifty years after mothers watched their sons kill one another in battle, we still wring our hands at the horrors around us. The battles differ, but ravage our country with the same merciless fervor. Addiction, cancer, and depression besiege us. Homelessness and trafficking invade our communities. Our backs crumple as endless crises add burdens to our hearts. Another untimely death. Three more terminal diagnoses. Hopeless murmurs swarm. How much more can we take?

None. The weight exceeds the limits of our design. We search for respite to brace ourselves, but the efforts prove futile. Human relationships and man-made attempts at solace fail to sustain our needs. Earth cannot manufacture peace. Our only hope begins with unchaining our hearts from self-reliance. We were not designed to bear increasing burdens, but to carry them to Someone stronger. One Who exchanges them for magnificent peace surpassing any known to the earth or even comprehensible to human thought. The Lord alone grants solace powerful enough to protect and strengthen us.

He wraps us in the wind of His Spirit, insulating us against the chaos. His embrace uplifts our souls, as if suspended among the clouds and renewed with strength to soar. Our hope and breath rise full once more. Christ revives us to bear His life’s peace. His solace compels us to reach out from our solitude and share it.

The pain of the world has not ended, nor are we dull to its groaning. Christ shapes our lives and compassion into His likeness. Anxiety removed, our hearts hold more room for love. With this revitalization, God equips us to glide on His power. Not above the suffering, but into the midst of it. We carry the message of divine peace to this despairing world. For there is no peace from this dark earth, but He sends rays of divine solace into it through us.

“And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7).

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27).

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:6-7).

1 I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1864, Available at http://cyberhymnal.org/htm/i/h/iheardtb.htm

Ruach gusted from the Creator’s lips into soulless forms on the earth. Life billowed into flesh and gave significance to the carcasses. Darkness shattered the perfection of Eden. Creation turned from its direct connection to Pure Lifebreath and distracted itself in a clamor to gasp for its own survival. The earth staggered and suffered in its putrid marshes of paganism and humanism while a remnant lifted their heads for the lilt of the Father’s breeze. After salvation dawned upon the world, new life rushed into a cloistered group of terrified disciples. Pneuma, as their language described it, set their breath ablaze with the advent of the Holy Spirit among believers. Revival whooshed across continents with unceasing demand.

An ongoing need to inhale fresh Spiritbreath persists. The breath of God alone begets life. Without His wind in our souls, we deflate to a gasping existence on dead calm seas.

We all need refreshment. In this stale pit of tragedy and confusion, our shoulders sag after so many miles of care. The norm can easily fade to drear and our words begin to lack flavor. Without a gust of divine breath, we suffocate in the dismal valley. We must seek His presence continually, and ask Him for renewal.

Florida’s sticky heat clutches at my chest as a constant reminder of my own Pneuma dependence. Our tropical summer waxed on for an extra month. The peak of hurricane season had passed, but the rains continued to pelt us. Nineteen inches drenched our September lawn. Temperatures wavered between eighty-eight and ninety-three, but steam hung in the air long after dusk. I attempted a prayerful walk around my neighborhood one evening. After less than a mile, I fought for breath.

Focus on circumstances had recently mired my soul in the doldrums and I struggled to keep moving in the work before me. Hot, sticky despair daunted my steps. Gloomy skies stretched beyond their due season. I pleaded for breath. I searched the heavens for a gust of Spirit to raise my flattened soul. And when I asked, ever faithful God demonstrated His goodness and breathed Pneuma into my spirit. Much like a gust of fresh, autumn-like air.

This weekend’s front gusted away the humid doldrums with a cool, refreshing wind. I snatched a sleeved blouse from the closet and leapt outside. Grins bloomed across the landscape–in passing cars, along the sidewalks, and throughout church. We held Sunday school outdoors to celebrate the occasion. Sighs floated on the breeze with contented remarks such as, “It’s so nice.”

I rolled back my sagging shoulders and drew in long drafts of rare autumn. Blues saturated the heavens, where the birds soared and dove to immerse themselves in fresh air.  I closed my eyes to offer prayers of gratitude. How magnificent is the Lord, revealing His creative glory in a breath of wind! Thank You, Father, for much-needed refreshment .

The temperatures will rise again mid-week. Humidity lurks in the near forecast, too. When the tropics settle over me, I can now face each day with the energy of revived breath. Pneuma alone renews the spirit. Thank You, Father, for a gust of Ruach to refresh my stagnant soul each time I ask.

How long will you gasp before calling for the LifeGiver to breathe refreshment into your soul?

 

“Send your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the ground.” Psalm 104:30

“Create in me a pure heart, O God,
    and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” Psalm 51:10
“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Romans 12:2
He sends his command to the earth;
    his word runs swiftly…
 He sends his word and melts them;
    he stirs up his breezes, and the waters flow.” Psalm 147:15, 18

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