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“Some became fools through their rebellious ways
    and suffered affliction because of their iniquities.
 They loathed all food
    and drew near the gates of death.
 Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
    and he saved them from their distress.
 He sent out his word and healed them;
    he rescued them from the grave.
 Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love
    and his wonderful deeds for mankind” (Psalm 107:17-21).

I tend to be a clumsy sort of gal. Like epic Lucille Ball antics, but not on purpose. It’d be nice if I could get away with blaming circumstances, others, or even inanimate objects for my stumbles. Even if I could pretend some level of temporary comfort with the dishonesty, I’m too obvious a klutz to pull it off.

Excuses amplify the ridiculous, you see.

“The sidewalk jumped up to trip me!”

“Who moved that wall?”

If only my foibles were limited to physical falls. Sin causes deeper bruises and its consequences sting for longer than I’d like to recount. I hate when I’ve created afflictions for myself. No backward movement on the soccer field can be more humiliating than dishonoring the Lord.

I’m so thankful God saves me anyway. Even when I least deserve it. Especially when I’ve run out of ridiculous excuses. I need only cry out to Jesus. In the pit of my deepest failures, my Redeemer never fails to show up.

Whether or not it’s my fault, Jesus lifts me from the darkest distress. He brushes off the dirt of my sin and pours His healing love over my self-inflicted wounds. I get myself into the mess, but the Faithful Savior gets me out of it. I’m so thankful for His unfailing love.

Are you thankful for the Lord’s redeeming love today?

prison

“Some sat in darkness, in utter darkness,
    prisoners suffering . . .
Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
    and he saved them from their distress.
He brought them out of darkness, the utter darkness,
    and broke away their chains.
Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love
    and his wonderful deeds . . .
for he breaks down gates of bronze
    and cuts through bars of iron” (Psalm 107:10-16).

My dad volunteers his time to guide incarcerated people toward transformation. He visits the jail at least once a week, and courthouse staff know him by name. Those who complete the Transformations Program have such a marginal rate of reoffending, judges recommend and celebrate their work. Dad often expresses the immeasurable rewards he experiences through guiding those lost souls to a renewed life. Their freedom extends beyond the removal of bars. Liberty defines their healthy lifestyle, a victorious state of the soul.

Bars and cell walls make some types of imprisonment clear. Whether or not the bars can be touched, other strongholds bind the soul with tenacious chains. Destructive thought cycles. Emotional quicksand. Toxic relationship patterns. We can step inside various spiritual strongholds and feel unable to escape on our own.

All the while, the One Who loves us most stands at the cell door. He extends the key in His nail-scarred hand. Our first step to freedom is reaching out in prayer to accept His help.

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Transformations graduates won’t testify to an effortless escape. Anyone with a life story of empancipation recognizes the journey’s challenges. Spiritual freedom requires us to change, which proves an intense challenge to habit-captives. Though we face tough work, Jesus Christ takes on the heaviest lifting. Soul liberation remains impossible without God’s power.

As the psalmist proclaims, the Lord never ignores a heartfelt cry submitted to Him. When we lay ourselves out in surrender, acknowledging our need for Christ’s transforming power, He shows up. Every time. Regardless of the circumstances, which might not change, Jesus renews, sustains, and frees each soul to the extent of its surrender to Him. The deep chains fall away, and His children celebrate inner victory.

What’s holding you hostage today? Will you consider praying to surrender all before the One Who waits to set you free forever?
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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).

“Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. On reaching the place, he said to them, ‘Pray that you will not fall into temptation.’ He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed,  ‘Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.’ An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow. ‘Why are you sleeping?’ he asked them. ‘Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation’” (Luke 22:39-46).

On the eve before His crucifixion, Jesus knew each detail of the unprecedented suffering awaiting Him. Jeering pagans would scourge him until near death. The priests who claimed His Father as God would insist they strip and kill Him. He would drag a beam through the dusty streets, as those He suffered to rescue spat upon His battered body. His raw flesh nailed to rough wood, He would hang to suffocate in the blistering sun. And that wasn’t the worst of it. He would also bear the immeasurable weight of every sin from the advent of time until the distant end of all days. Incomparable physical, emotional, and spiritual agony.

Jesus foresaw all this as He poured the Passover wine. Three years of cherished moments with these men culminated in this final message.He ripped the bread and explained its secret meaning to blank stares. In conclusion, He handed the elements to the dear friends who would soon abandon Him.

The scent of roast lamb floated through the streets. Jesus led them beyond the hard-packed roads until the murmurings faded and lush grasses eased their steps. With the steep incline, His legs strained under the added weight of His coming journey. They settled under a favorite cluster of trees in the garden. Gentle breezes lulled His full-bellied companions into repose. Jesus offered a vital exhortation to his too-comfortable students.

“Pray that you will not fall into temptation.”

He surrendered Himself in a crucial prayer. Angels responded to strengthen Him. Christ continued His fervent interaction with the Father. Until—

Every nerve and hair prickled as He recognized this moment. The time had come.

Jesus returned to wake his dozing supporters. Yes, He realized their frailty. But He must impress the concept of crucial prayer. “Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.”

Christ’s insistence upon prayer at this moment renders it a crucial matter. The word ‘crucial’ derives its significance from its parent term, crucifixion. Though comprehension eluded the disciples until after the resurrection, we now benefit from Christ’s magnificent teaching delivered on Maundy Thursday. He

  • Forgiveness. He fulfilled the secret meaning of Passover as the Messiah Lamb Who redeems us from the consequences of sin. Despite impending betrayals and our continued undeserving nature, He demonstrated ultimate grace.
  • Service. He modeled the nature of a servant, explaining an additional impact of His coming sacrifice as providing inspiration for selfless living.
  • Submission. He surrendered Himself in prayer to the Father, Who strengthened Him to face unimaginable agony. During His crucial prayer, the Lord sent angelic support.
  • Crucial Prayer. He exhorted His followers to pray against temptation. He knew the trials awaiting them in the coming season. He knows prayer is our essential resource to fortify and equip us foll all that lies ahead.

This Maundy Thursday, as you reflect upon Jesus’ message to the disciples at the Last Supper and Gethsemane, will you join me in committing to a discipline of crucial prayer?

“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).

“They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— the world was not worthy of them. . .Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders . . .And let us run with perseverance. . .fixing our eyes on Jesus. . .so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” –Hebrews 11:35-12:3

Jack-o-lanterns and costumes lay waiting. Candy reserves mount inside each doorway. We muddle through the workweek amid the season’s orange and black decor. The time nears, and we do our best to prepare against the horror of facing a princess with nothing sweet to offer.

Halloween stirs mixed responses of aversion, occult obsession, or ambivalence in the name of family fun. Although pagan rituals once took place during harvest season, early Christians promoted neither ambivalence nor aversion to the October 31st holiday. On All Hallow’s Eve, shortened to Hallowe’en, Christ followers entered a two-day festival honoring those who  paid the ultimate price for their faith.

This week offers an opportunity to celebrate those who persevere in faith by living their example. Join those Christians who observe All Saints Day by taking a moment to learn from the stories of martyrs. Support contemporary missionaries who risk their lives daily to share Jesus. Better still, take the step of becoming an ambassador to shine His hope wherever you go. Instead of joining the occult practices or condemning the lost, we can reach out in love and prayer.

Like the story of the jack-o-lantern, we carry the light of Christ so that it can shine into the darkness of the world. Carve a smile onto your face this Halloween, and let His hope and love gleam toward all the little princes and princesses who cross your path.

happy jackolantern

Pumpkin Parable (Original author unknown):

First, God picks a pumpkin from the pumpkin patch and brings it in from the field. He chooses you.

He then washes all the “dirt” off the outside. He cleans away the outside influences. Old things are passed away and all things are become new.

Then, God carefully removes all the tangled messes of lies and confusion, pain and fear, and the slime of sin. He cleans out all the icky stuff from the inside. 

He replaces the seeds of doubt with the light of faith, hope and love. The Light of His Spirit warms and transforms us.

Then He carves a new smiling face. His powerful presence changes our life. 

 He shines through our life for all to see.  “In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16)

Jesus, please cleanse me of fear, disdain, and sin. Fill me with Your brilliant presence and make my life shine powerfully for You. Amen.

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

Hedonism flooded our nation. It surged from the eastern and western shores, with cyber-rivulets stretching inland across the plains. The moral decay reeks more of death’s stench with each passing day. Its mire snares billions of citizens who sojourn through life with inadequate protection for their souls. Many have grown so accustomed to the devastation that their senses don’t recognize it as a disaster zone. 

A remnant crowd of disciples can still smell the rancor. We sift through the rubble, grieving over lost treasures. Sanctity of marriage, childhood innocence, religious freedom for Christians–the list of our tragic losses seems endless. A nation founded upon divine truths now worships pleasure. Some pause to leverage blame or question how such a thing could have happened. As if the tsunami crashed through overnight. 

These decades of apostasy began, as such things tend to do, with small concessions. A pathway of brick-sized allowances paved the way for our country to believe Hugh Heffner’s revolution offered freedom. Long before schools forbade prayer, we stood by and let other things distract us from the significance of God’s protection. Culture denies scientific evidence of cannabis-related brain damage and encourages us to legalize gambling in order to fund our schools.

“‘You will not certainly die,’ the serpent said…” (Genesis 3:4).

Despite America’s widespread deception, hope remains. We can pray. Not as a last resort, or the one small effort available to us. Prayer offers access to world-changing power and stands alone as our wisest first response. America thirsts for darkness-shattering light and fear-conquering love, but these can only be obtained by reaching for the Light and Love Himself. In the midst of these ominous shadows, Christ is never far away.

We need not believe the slithering lie that God has forgotten us. Our Heavenly Father waits, with eager heart and searching eyes, to hear us call upon Him. The Lord longs to restore our relationship with Him, as has always been His nature. 

As the Lord advised His people long ago, our united prayers can affect transformation throughout the country. May each day become a national day of prayer. Will you join me to pray for America? 

“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land... my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place” (2 Chronicles 7:14-15).

“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!

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