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raised toddler

 I prayed for this child, and the Lord has granted me what I asked of him. So now I give him to the Lord” (1 Samuel 1:27-28).

Hannah endured years of endless persecution. She faced it while cooking. The torment followed her into the marketplace. She could not escape it at night. The bully, you see, lived in her home. And shared her husband’s bed.

Neighbors stopped whispering when she approached. They didn’t use the “cursed” or “barren” words to her face like Peninah. Other women turned away from her on the street, shunned her at parties, or gave her a sideways glance with raised chins–the look.

One night, her gut soured from years of abuse, Hannah broke. She ran to the Lord and prayed with all her heart and soul. Her childless womb ached for life. Even more desperately, her soul yearned for a touch from the Lord. To know that her cry mattered to God would redefine her identity from “cursed” to “favored.”

The Author of Life showed up and showed off, as is often His glorious style. He blessed Hannah with an extraordinary son, who would become the nation’s last judge and prophet to its first two kings. Before launching into his destiny, his mother had to do something quite extraordinary herself. She had to surrender her most precious blessing. After sacrificing a valuable bull, Hannah returned the answer to her most heartfelt prayer back to God.

Yesterday, I learned both my sons will leave for college in a few weeks. Like Hannah, my arms will soon be emptied of children. I’m listening to them play the guitar and sing together as I write this post, wishing I could preserve the moment. Such times cannot be held in our fingers, and attempts to protect a blessing will rob it of its most beautiful potential.

Hannah shares the secret of optimizing our blessings by releasing them back to the Lord. When we first receive an answer to prayer, our natural response is to embrace it. Clutch that treasure to our chests and never let go. Faith in the awesome goodness of God empowers us to act against our nature. Because we know and trust Him, we can respond to His blessings in the most unexpected way imaginable and give them back.

There’s no more lucrative investment than placing my treasure in God’s hands. I can’t bring better results than Jesus. He alone can make springs from rocks and evangelists from brawling fishermen.So, I choose to lift my sons up to the Lord and let them go.

I look forward to seeing the glorious work God crafts with my surrendered blessings. Come do it again, Jesus. I love when You show up and show off.

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Cakes, red meat, and fresh neckties fly off the shelves this week. I’m grateful for the ease with which I could choose a card for my wonderful dad. But many struggle with this weekend’s holiday. I heard a comedian wish aloud for a card without overstated accolades, reading something like, “Well, Dad, I guess you did the best you could.”

Others experience deeper strife than choosing an appropriate card. Father’s Day torments the orphaned, abused, or widowed. A strong sense of loss comes with grieving a beloved man or aching over the empty hole never filled by a father’s love.

God never designed fatherhood to hurt us. Nor did He intend for the role to fill a permanent need. Fathers were built into our life cycle design as a model to help us better understand significant aspects of our relationship to the Ultimate Father. A temporary model to help explain the source Who fulfills our needs forever. The Creator employs earthly dads to point their children toward relationship with a heavenly Father. Dads are meant to serve as imperfect place-holders to demonstrate the role of Our Perfect Father who will fulfill our needs forever. Where humans can only attempt to provide, God sustains us with a sufficiency beyond our expectations. Whether you have a good, hurtful, or missing one, Christ offers us all access to intimate, fulfilling relationship with a Perfect Father. No one needs to remain fatherless.

Mothers raise and nurture children, also conveying certain God-head characteristics when fulfilling their roles well. Some of the Lord’s qualities can be modeled by both parents, in different ways. For the sake of Father’s Day, let’s focus on specific divine attributes reflected in the ideal design of a father’s role.  These include protection, provision, discipline, and fatherly love.

“The Lord your God carried you, as a father carries his son, all the way you went” (Deuteronomy 1:31).

In Deuteronomy, we see the Lord’s provision and protection described in tandem. Earthly fathers are engineered for provision and protection, but cannot meet all physical or spiritual needs for a growing individual. Human insufficiency illuminates our need for God as the ultimate resource. Like a good dad, God doesn’t indulge our every desire, but only He can sustain us by identifying and meeting our true needs. Responsible fathers try to protect their kids without insulating them from opportunities to grow. While we might experience hardship, the Lord can use our struggles toward increasing our strength. He alone can guard us against the forces of evil.

My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline,
    and do not resent his rebuke,
because the Lord disciplines those he loves,
    as a father the son he delights in” (Proverbs 3:11-12).

Discipline wasn’t fun when our parents delivered it. We often shrink from the notion of loving rebuke from God. Unlike the unreliable outcomes of human correction, our heavenly Father only sets boundaries which offer increasing benefit to us. His guidance prevents disaster and steers us toward glorious, abundant life. Sinful tendencies resemble nits in our hair, and the Lord removes them as often as we allow Him to comb them out.

As a father has compassion on his children,
    so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him” (Psalm 103:13).

Ideal dads show some compassion to their kids. Many never experienced this quality during childhood. Even those who had caring fathers didn’t get selfless adoration at all times. People in this broken world love imperfectly. Why did Scripture offer this insufficient analogy? Because the ancients living in Old Testament period needed a relevant starting point for understanding their relationship with God. Before Christ set aside His glory to dwell among us in human form, nothing on earth came close to the love of God. Jesus alone offered exact representation of the Father’s love.

“God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

Unconditional. Suffering when we hurt. Willing to suffer for us. Selfless. Unlimited. Over-the-top. Amazing. Beyond all our imagination can comprehend. Blowing all other concepts of love out of the water. THAT is the love our Father extends to us.

This weekend, while honoring those designed to point toward heaven, consider the gift of the cross. Christ’s outstretched arms leave no one excluded from access to a perfect Father. If you’ve never accepted the ultimate love gift of eternal life, let this be your opportunity to respond to Jesus’ scarred hands and receive His embrace. It only takes a simple but sincere prayer, like, “I need You, Jesus. I’m all yours.”

Today could begin your endless Father’s Day.

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“Now remain in my love…

My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.

Greater love has no one than this:

to lay down one’s life for one’s friends”

(John 15:9-13).

He grinds his jaw as his blistered soles pound the trail. His gear weighs as much as a man’s corpse, and the load drives an ache through his spine and knees. Perspiration stings his eyes. His lungs heave in a steamy breath. Five more miles before the downhill slope. Must. Press. On.

“Let’s go, soldier!”

Ears clogged, he can’t tell if the raspy command comes from behind or ahead of him. But he knows that voice.

The crack of gunfire shatters the air. An explosion rattles through the earth into his weary bones. He stumbles in the plume of smoke, but does not fall. Adrenaline pulses to steady his gait. Chaos dulls his pain and drowns the officer’s words. But he knows his mission. Heart bearing the worth of his people, the soldier plunges headlong into the deadly fray.

Soldiers. Willing to lay down their lives for our people, they represent the utmost fulfillment of Christ’s call to all of us. This Memorial Day, many of us will offer our respect to the soldiers who have offered the ultimate sacrifice for freedom. Active duty service men and women also deserve our thanks, for they lay aside peace and comfort most of us take for granted. Many in our military face unimaginable horrors in battle, continuing years afterward to fight for emotional survival.

We owe them thanks in many ways.. Verbal gratitude, assistance, and favor provide a good start. Tangible appreciation must never be neglected or diminished one iota. There remains an even more significant means of honoring our troops–join them in answering the call.

Christ commissions all of us to lay down our lives in love for one another. If we rise to follow His example, setting aside our comfort to plunge forth in the fight against evil, we adopt the soldier’s mission. Carrying out acts of love despite hardship will honor the soldier, for we rise to a value more worthy of his or her sacrifice. More worthy, though it remains difficult to imagine we’ll deserve what our fallen troops have offered.

We’ll never deserve the sacrifice Jesus offered for us. No manner of thanks, no acts of service can make us worthy. Grace cannot be earned. Yet our grateful hearts prompt us to follow His example and love others. Like these noble soldiers, we, too, can grow selflessly loving hearts. Far away from perfection, long before we reach our destination, God awards us, both spiritual and tactical soldiers, an amazing distinction. He calls us friends.

This Memorial Day, join me in the ongoing practice of thanking God’s friends. And becoming one of them.

Blessings to all who have offered service to our country and our King.

“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.

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Gravity sucks us to the earth. The weight of our flesh drags us through the grime of this world. We expend all the energy we consume in the effort to sustain ourselves. At the end of the day, we collapse with exhaustion with nothing more to look forward to than another day of survival. Breaking away from the dust attraction seems impossible. In the natural course of survival, tomorrow carries no more hope than today.

Sin imprisons the earth-bound in despair. An ever-loving God extends us a way to rise from captivity. Like all freedom, ours comes at great cost. Christ suffered torture and death to pay our way free from the spiritual forms of both. He rent His body to craft wings for our souls.

We need more than a “thing with feathers” to break the gravitational pull of sin. Christ offers us wings of divine hope, which lift us from the natural pull of our depravity. Why should we live any longer as if our only means of living is a trudging through slime dragging tons of baggage? He invests His Spirit in us to lift our souls away from earthly prisons. No longer mired in addictions, bitterness, or greed. No more snares of fear, rage, or ambivalence.   We have a great deal more to look forward to than these dusty trails, today and in the eternal future. Let us set our focus higher, on things beyond this dirt at our feet. Let’s take wing and live free.

“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,  because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:1-2).

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1).

“So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36).

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Corinthians 3:17).

in the day of salvation I will help you… to say to the captives, ‘Come out,’
    and to those in darkness, ‘Be free!’” (Isaiah 49:8-9)

 Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death” (Hebrews 2:14-15).

“Teach me to do Your will,
for You are my God.
May Your gracious Spirit
lead me on level ground.
Because of Your name, Yahweh,
let me live.” — Psalm 143:10-11

September clung to the calendar by less than a week. I still hadn’t enjoyed my autumnal pumpkin spice latte. My conditioner ran out. I scraped at cosmetics to stretch them a few more weeks. I didn’t mind a few sacrifices to share time with my writer friends at a retreat. Sharing a dim bathroom? Doable. Cafeteria food? Well, it was only for three days.

But when the speaker questioned our willingness to suffer, I balked. Pain and grief didn’t paint a sparkly advertisement. I couldn’t say I felt eager to leap onto the hurt wagon. Yes, I’d make minor concessions here and there, but would I be willing to charge into suffering?

This  guarantee of trials peppers the New Testament, but I hadn’t considered my consent. The resolution to use faith to cope with trouble differs from volunteering for certain angst. I had often professed a desire to fulfill God’s purpose, but had failed to anchor my commitment in this depth. The resolve would need to burrow into my core to hold a Savior-sized beam of dedication. I’d have to reject the priority of my own comfort to embrace the splintery cross. Beyond confessing my love for Jesus, I must decide my reason for living. Will I live for Him … or for me?

Our culture invites us to live for our own comfort. We work to accumulate possessions, engage in costly hobbies, and obtain the security of others’ approval. Reward-seeking shimmers like a mirage and beckons us down its well-paved path. Though we experience less resistance on a self-centered path, the indulgences fail to offer us a satisfying existence. Happiness evaporates the instant it passes our lips. Hedonism leaves our souls empty, and our comforts abandon us at the grave.

Christ invites us to trade a dying body for eternal luxury. Our temporary investment of suffering on His behalf guarantees an exponential return. Unlike the selfish indulgences we savor on earth, sharing Christ’s joy never loses an iota of shimmer or a bit of thrill.

What will you choose to live for?

“Consider it a great joy, my brothers, whenever you experience various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. But endurance must do its complete work, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing…A man who endures trials is blessed, because when he passes the test he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him.” —James 1:2-4,12

20140521_164204Bridges draw my eyes up and across their magnificent structures. Age and wear tug at my slumbering imagination, inspiring me to wonder at a bridge’s creation and years of shouldering live burdens toward safety. The builder invested careful engineering before setting the first stone at its foundation. Intense toil erected its magnificent path. The suffering laborer knew his work would provide means to cross a treacherous divide. For those who would follow his work, the bridge offered freedom from grave pitfalls below. The number of bridge goers would continue to increase beyond the end of the worker’s life. How many life stories plodded across this divide? Who paused to gaze into the ravine below and consider the passion required to secure their way?

So it is with our Bridge to Eternal Hope. Our Father, the Great Bridge Builder, engineered our way as soon as its need began. When sin ruptured the earth and triggered an epic collapse, a ravine gaped between the Father and His children. Deadly pitfalls threatened us, and we could not reach Him. The Father placed each stone with precise engineering, His heart empassioned to carry His children home securely. At the perfect moment, He set the Cornerstone which would never falter. Christ toiled and suffered, rending His body as building materials for the cross beams. He crafted a bridge to traverse the impossible divide.

We no more need linger on this forsaken shore. The passage welcomes us, drawing our wondering eyes up and over its secure structure. Let’s cross together with thankful and joyous hearts, pausing to cast a tearful gaze across the ravine. Thank You, Lord, for making the Way for us.

“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6

 

“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. ..But 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 Christand seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus,…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.” Ephesians 2:1-9

“God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.  For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people.” 1Timothy 2:3-6

“Hosanna!”

Dust rolled up from the shuffle of thousands of sandals. Fresh cut palm fronds mingled a clean scent with the sweat of bodies pressing closer to the road. Tattered cloaks flew overhead like banners unrolling across the spring sun. Kings went to war in this season, returning on a donkey to announce victory.

“Hosanna! Blessed is the King of Israel!”

Hungry, lost souls thronged the street. Their outcry’s literal meaning was, “Save!”

Another chant soon took its place. 

“Crucify Him!”

The multitude pleading for a king did not see his crown of thorns as a symbol of glory. They failed to recognize the scarlet blood robing him at his moment of royal triumph. Not even his beloved followers perceived the correlated cries of salvation and sacrifice.

With raised hands and waving palms, today we cry, “Hosanna!” Let us lift our hearts with deep thanks for the cost of our salvation, paid by the King  on our behalf. Let’s unfurl song-banners of praise for the Lamb of God, who rode into the midst of human sin and darkness to deliver us through his unsurpassed suffering into eternal life. 

Blessed is the King of Kings!

I opened the door to greet the brilliant morning. Fair weather clouds glistened in the sunlight. Sparrows twittered overhead. An unfamiliar odor tainted the spring breeze. As I ventured onto the porch, my sandal crunched on the welcome mat. I gasped and retracted my foot from the wingtip of a dead parakeet.

Silly Cat poked his striped head around the bush and mewed. A purr underscored his stride toward me. He raised his head, as if expecting affection for the offering he pilfered from the neighbor’s child.

Yeah, not so much.

I scowled at the rancid corpse and covered my nose. Silly Cat’s ‘gift’ entailed a nasty cleanup job. Ugh.

As I consider the season of Lent, I feel compelled to examine my own offering.  I’m searching my heart and spirit for a fragrant blessing to present. I don’t want to create stench in the Lord’s nostrils or cost Him a nasty cleanup in the wake of my halfhearted devotion. Will I honor the Lord’s sacrifice, or steal some convenient token?

Traditional Lenten celebrations include fasts. For some, the discipline of fasting cultivates honor and submission. Others choose to add a spiritual discipline to their daily routine. The fasts and service done by my neighbors might sing with their hearts. Rather than stealing a random songbird, I must determine which offering best reflects a sacrifice from my heart. 

I must also ensure that I honor Lent in a way that increases my submission to God and love for my neighbors. A sacrifice that detracts from God’s calling or injures others will stink to high heaven. I’m good at sticking to my list, so it would be all too easy to hyper-focus on my personal laws and shrug off the needs of His precious children, saying, “I can’t…because I’m doing this for Lent.” I don’t want to cause Him to drag out the divine shovel to fix my mess.

My prayers today will revolve around Ephesians 5:1-3, “Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” I trust the Lord to inspire a fresh and pleasing way for me to worship Him this season.

An atheist erected a beer-can pole near the nativity scene in Florida’s capitol building. He dubbed the eyesore a “Festivus pole,” citing the synthetic holiday originating in a Seinfeld episode. During the television interview, he expressed his desire to present the most ridiculous display he could imagine.

Atheistic protests have increased in recent years. In avid worship of disbelief, this minority group seeks to usurp our right to express respect for the true Lord. The shadow of humanism seems most inappropriate at Christmas. Many believers gasp at the affront to our cherished season’s original meaning.

Digging deeper into the story, however, we find this news clip brings nothing new. False religions defiled the honored public places and government buildings during the night of our Savior’s birth. Humanistic idols littered the earth for thousands of years preceding the first Noel. Asherah poles plagued ancient Israel’s high places. Instead of seeking the true Lord, men erected hedonistic poles with which they felt able to control all things seen and unseen. Much like modern atheists, the ancient pagan worshipers sought to direct their own spiritual sovereignty.

The poles of false religions fail to eclipse Christmas, for they represent the reason for a Savior’s birth into the dark world of humanity. Man wandered away from his Creator. Without the light of divine truth, humans lost their grasp upon morality and life. We could not rescue ourselves from the depraved state of the world. God poured His Son into our bleak existence. He entered the world as a homeless, impoverished outcast amid the rule of oppressive tyrants and emperors. He suffered our challenges to save us from ourselves.

The Asherah and Festivus poles remind us of God’s redeeming love, and the indubious light of Christmas. 

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it…The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. … The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” – John 1:5-14

“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