How to Celebrate in the Midst of Messy


She asks me how it's going.

And I have to smile.

I tell her about the piles of research on my desk and dishes in the sink yet despite whatever mess we're experiencing, how there's always so much good. 

Like the home God has provided, health He has granted, and priceless friends who make life rich beyond measure.

There's also the hard things. Like the lists. And the 9 to 5, the deadlines, the research, and the writer's block.

It's strange how an overcrowded mind and overflowing desk can undo everything—if I let it.

For the life of me, I can't get it all right.

I'm a mess far from perfect. 

I need Jesus.

I need the perfect sacrifice of my Savior who reshapes my broken messes into breathtaking mosaics of Grace.

I need the communion table of Grace and Forgiveness that God prepares for those who love Him.

The key is remembering to celebrate when life crowds in tight.

A celebrant keeps company with Jesus and celebrates His extravagant Grace. A celebrant keeps her eyes plastered on His perfect sacrifice — precisely because she isn't perfect.  

We the imperfect, the sinners, the wounded and burdened  are the ones who get to celebrate Grace.

Christ invites us to embrace this life fully as celebrants, not because we have it all together, but because He perfectly finished it all at the Cross. The reminders shine vivid during Lent.

We celebrate the fact that God's mercies arrive new every morning. Every. Single. Morning.

Regardless of the messes, if Christ is the Lord of your life, then you are a celebrant dancing in the downpour of His Grace.

So I light a candle on my messy desk and breathe deep. 

Amidst the lull, His Grace inhabiting this moment, my hands unclench.

His peace lifts the burdens slumping my shoulders. The dishes can wait.

I notice the kitty cats purring. The birds vying for space at my backyard feeder. The bright green hyacinth sprouting up through warm soil.

Slowly, praise begins to rise like incense.

We can be celebrants each day, you and I. We have that stunning privilege to worship instead of worry.

And I want to be His worshiper.

Celebrating — even in the midst of messy. 

Do you find it hard to celebrate when life gets messy?
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When God Sighs


Have you ever stumbled over a small, ordinary word in Scripture? Not one of those hard-to-pronounce names, but a standard, everyday, normal word?

It happened to me over the weekend. As I read through a set of passages to wrap my mind around something specific, I tripped right over one word. I couldn't get past it.  

Believe me, I tried, but my eyes kept going back to it.

Finding the answer to my original question promptly vanished. The one word would not go away. So I backed up, slowed down, and read the word in context:

"Then Jesus left the vicinity of Tyre and went through Sidon, down to the Sea of Galilee and into the region of the Decapolis. There some people brought to him a man who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged Jesus to place his hand on him. After he took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put his fingers into the man's ears. Then he spit and touched the man's tongue. He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, 'Ephphatha!' (which means "Be opened!"). At this, the man's ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly." Mark 7:31-35 (ESV)

Quite a passage, isn't it? The man was deaf and had a speech impediment, so perhaps Jesus had to explain what he was about to do through gestures. In kindness, Jesus took the man away from the crowd, safe from prying eyes.

But right before Jesus reached out to heal the man, that one word stopped me again. Jesus did something I never noticed before.

He sighed. 

That reaction seemed out of place considering the miracle He was about to perform. Perhaps I thought Jesus would have praised the faith-filled actions of the people who brought the man to him for healing. Or prayed a profound prayer.

Instead, he sighed.

I have never thought of God as one who sighs. He commands. He weeps. He speaks galaxies into existence. He calls forth from the dead. He battles with Satan.   

But a God who sighs?

When I sigh it's usually because I'm tired or exasperated. Even fed up. I've sighed when my feeble resistance to temptation fails or when loved ones hurt my heart. In the Bible, Job sighed when he endured severe trials (Job 3:24).

I bet you've done your fair share of sighing, as well.

Max Lucado describes sighing this way: "Man was not created to be separated from his Creator; hence he sighs longing for home. The creation was never intended to be inhabited by evil; hence she sighs, yearning for the Garden. And conversations with God were never intended to depend on a translator; hence the Spirit groans on our behalf, looking to a day when humans will see God face to face."
 
Perhaps when Jesus looked into the eyes of that man, sighing was the only appropriate thing to do. His sigh spoke volumes:

     ...beloved, it was never intended to be this way.
     ...your ears weren't made to be deaf.
     ...your tongue wasn't made to stumble. 

It's a sigh that lies somewhere between a fit of anger and a burst of tears.

Oddly enough, knowing Jesus sighs gives me hope. It reminds me that He loves you and me enough to feel the burden of our suffering and sin-filled condition. When I'm rebellious, He doesn't wash his hands of me and turn away.

Perhaps...he sighs:

     ...beloved, there's a better choice.
     ...trust me, I'll never hurt you.
     ...lean on me, not your own understanding.

That holy sigh assures us that God still groans for His people.

And that brings me comfort today.    

What about you?
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trASH Wednesday


Before Ash Wednesday rings in at midnight tonight, Mardi Gras in New Orleans culminates with a blowout celebration.

French for Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras originally referred to the practice of one last night of eating richer, fatty foods before the ritual 40-day fasting of the Lenten season.

Our culture has turned Mardi Gras into week-long festivals. From parades and balls to masks and elaborate costumes, it's the cue for many to overindulge in all sorts of ways.

At 11:59 p.m. on Fat Tuesday, the streets of New Orleans sit ankle deep in discarded masks, broken beads, trampled doubloons, and used food and drink containers.

Fat Tuesday creates a lot of trash.

As we enter our churches tomorrow to begin the 40-days of Lent, we drag our trash in with us. You know, the junk in our lives that we've accumulated and hung onto since last year's Lent.

Our garbage litters the pristine aisles and sullies our mind with the refuse of regrets, waste of missed opportunities, and the rubbish of shattered dreams.

Yet God lovingly invites us.

We are aware of our junk, so we approach Him with eyes downcast -- stumbling on the trash that chokes our freedom. And He welcomes us. He invites us to discard our masks and elaborate disguises that conceal feelings, hide behaviors, and keep Him at arms length.

God sees us drowning -- so He picks us out of the pile, cleanses us, and sets us on a new path.

"Who can compare with God, our God, so majestically enthroned, surveying His magnificent heavens and earth? He picks up the poor from out of the dirt, rescues the wretched who've been thrown out with the trash, and seats them among the honored guests, a place of honor among the brightest and best." Psalm 113:5-8 (MSG)

God invites us to leave the used food and drink containers at the altar in exchange for His bread of life. His communion of forgiveness.

To heal our hearts. And redeem us from our sin.

As I prepare to walk into church tomorrow night for our Ash Wednesday service, I'm painfully aware of the rotting trash curling around my feet. The rancid yards of it trailing behind me. The putrid bags of it I carry in my heart.

Self-centeredness. Entitlement. Pride.

Trash.

I'm so thankful for a loving God who still welcomes. Still invites. Endlessly loves. Continues to initiate that relationship with me that means everything.

He does the same for every single person who seeks Him.

He excels at redeeming us from our trash.

How are you preparing spiritually for Lent? 
 
*This is a blog archive re-post from 2014*

The Deposit We Take For Granted



Today, 86,400 of the most precious commodity has been deposited into my stewardship account.

And yours.

We are given this incredible gift every single day.

86,400 seconds is mine every time the sun rises, orbits, then sleeps.

And as the clock's hands go round and round today, I will either invest those seconds to grow exponentially for eternity, or let them tick by wastefully into a meaningless abyss.

I have a choice today. So do you.

We can choose to speak words to encourage and build, or spew words that hurt and deflate.

The Apostle Mark understood such a precious investment. He understood that time passes in an instant. He realized the urgency at stake, so he penned the word "immediately" no less than ten times in his Gospel's first chapter alone.

Carpe diem.

Seize the day.

Before the unstoppable train of this day gathers steam, seize an important moment to pause and utter this prayer, "God, give me the wisdom to spend Your deposit wisely today."

What awaits me today?

What awaits you?

86,400 moments to express joy, fear, gratitude, happiness, sadness or regret -- and once gone, those moments are forever out of our grasp.

So what shall we do? Perhaps...

"To encourage one another daily, as long as it is called 'Today.'" Hebrews 3:13

To write words that will inspire a mind.

To sing a song that will soften a heart.

To tell someone that you love them.

To tell them about a Savior who loves them more than you ever could.

God has given us the gift of time, that ultimately all belongs to Him.

So...
How will you spend your 86,400 stewardship deposit today?
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What the Devil Is Really After


We tend to think that the devil is after our happiness.

Our spouse.

   Our children.

      Our security.

Well, he is.

But those are merely distractions to the devil's ultimate goal:

To steal your faith. 

Because without it, it's impossible to please God.

Paul, a pillar of faith, expressed nearly palpable relief in his final letter: "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith." (2 Tim. 4:7)

In the end, we all reach the finish line of this life. But the never-ending, drama-filled struggle along the journey is this: will we keep our faith?

Now, that's not the same thing as keeping our salvation. Salvation is a gift from God and not something we can just give back. We receive it by grace through faith, and not by works.

Faith is our active belief that God is who He says He is and does what He says He will do. During difficult seasons, we may struggle with actively believing that God is good.

   Or faithful.

      Or even listens to us.

That's when the enemy does his best work to knock the wind out of us. To kick us while we're down. To feed our doubts with fear. For me, that translates into targeting those I love most in this world.

But this truth changes everything:

God does not abandon us - even when we struggle with a crisis of faith. He is with us. His Holy Spirit resides in us and acts as God's interpreter in our lives, nudging and guiding us back toward Him. The same power that raised Christ from the grave and conquered death LIVES IN YOU. 

God holds you in the palm of His hand and nothing can snatch you from His iron grip of love. 

You are never at the devil's mercy. You are at the extraordinary, life-giving mercy and sustaining grace of our Savior Jesus Christ, which leads to eternal life free from suffering.

So if you are experiencing a crisis of faith, remember:

He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. (1 John 4:4)

God's love does conquer all. 

He is our refuge and fortress, so stand firm in the strength of His might, wearing His armor into your daily battle.

Because His love wins. Always.

What reassurance does this provide for your battle today?
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For Those Days That Leave You Speechless



Over the past week, I've been pondering the story of Zechariah in Luke 1. Those verses brought to mind this truth:

Sometimes we experience moments that leave us speechless.

You know, those almost incomprehensible life stunners that silence us:

    ... a blessing too immeasurable to grasp

    ... a heartbreak too deep to comprehend

    ... a long-awaited dream coming to fruition

    ... a tragedy too senseless to understand

When was the last time you experienced such a moment?

For me, it was that horrible day when Dad called long distance to tell me he had cancer. And again two and a half years later as I gave the eulogy at his funeral. 

The blood thundering in our ears drowns out all else. Pulse racing. Knees weak. Head spinning as we attempt to grasp the enormity of those moments.

We tend to remember exactly where we stood and who stood with us when we couldn't stand anymore.

Ordinary days take on HD clarity at such moments. Vivid details that stun our mind and silence our mouth.

It happened to Zechariah.

After decades of serving as a priest in the temple, the lot fell on Zechariah for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to burn the incense in the Holy of Holies. His moment was momentous enough, but God wasn't finished.

Zechariah disappeared behind the temple curtain. For a long time. Perhaps the people worried. After all, he was pretty old.

But he wasn't in there alone. A surprise visitor dropped in.

To his astonishment, Zechariah stood face to face with the angel Gabriel. They talked about Zechariah's tired prayer regarding a forgotten dream: a child of his very own. And Gabriel told Zechariah,

"Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John." Luke 1:13

His brain couldn't grasp what his ears heard, so Zechariah doubted the message and the messenger.

And lost his voice for over nine months.

God silenced Zechariah until the truth of His promise was revealed in His perfect timing: that Zechariah wouldn't just be any ordinary father, but father of the forerunner to the Messiah.

Zechariah didn't choose to go silent. We normally don't either.

Sometimes it takes speechless moments to still our rambling mouths so we can hear God's rich, boundless promises.

In a world that clamors for our attention, how do we hear and follow God's guidance?

We listen in the silence.

Whether our momentous moments are full of joy or sorrow, God isn't finished with us. Regardless of anything else, God still walks with us.

   Leading.

      Guiding.

         Always.

So if you're living in a season of stunned silence, instead of adding noise, simply pause.

Inhale.
Exhale.
Listen.
"I have loved you with an everlasting love." Jeremiah 31:3

When was the last time something stunned you into silence?
Do you tend to listen more closely during those times?

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When We Want to Pray Like Jesus Did


Over Christmas, I purchased my very first guitar.

I have no plans to take the music world by storm. I simply want to add acoustic beauty to the end of my personal quiet time each day. Just for me. Just for Jesus.

When I step out to learn something new, I intentionally seek out the best teacher. After purchasing a beginner's guitar book with DVD online, I asked one of my friends who plays in his own band to teach me the basic chords that comprise most songs.

When it comes to prayer, I want to seek out the best. Because sometimes my words or attitude don't make music. Sometimes I hit wrong chords or miss a beat through self-centeredness. Praying the "right" words is not my concern as much as learning to pray with heart and soul leaned in to Jesus.

Prayer is not so much a formula as it is the desire to seek God wholeheartedly in all things. To be an intercessor. So to learn, who would know how to pray better than God in the flesh?

How and what did Jesus pray for?

Jesus prayed before meals.

Before the miracle of feeding the 5,000, Jesus prayed. "Then He ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass and taking five loaves and two fish, He looked up to heaven and said a blessing." (Matthew 14:19) Scripture doesn't record what Jesus prayed. It was likely a standard meal blessing. But He prayed. He acknowledged that the blessing they were about to receive came from God and no one else.

In the upper room with the disciples, Jesus instituted the Lord's Supper -- the ultimate meal. Scripture records: "And as they were eating, He took bread, and after blessing it, broke it and gave it to them." (Mark 14:22). Even knowing He would die within 24 hours, Jesus still gave thanks for the meal that God provided.

Jesus even sang some prayers. When He and the disciples left the upper room on the way to the Garden of Gethsemane, they sang the "Hallel." This traditional hymn was comprised of Psalms 115-118 and sang during the time of Passover. Jesus sang even though He knew that He would die within 24 hours.

I wonder. If we knew the date and time we would die, would we still be able to sing?

Jesus also offered prayers of thanksgiving.

"At that time Jesus declared, 'I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and revealed them to little children, for such was your gracious will." (Matthew 11:25-26) When we fail to give thanks to God, it reflects the condition of our relationship with Him. Not offering thanks for God's rich blessings is a sign that we take those blessings for granted.

When was the last time you thanked God that you were born in America? That in this wonderful nation, we enjoy the finest medical care, freedom to worship, the opportunity to learn, and even for the electronic device we are using right now. Giving thanks keeps us humble and provides a proper perspective.

Jesus also prayed before making important decisions. He prayed for the disciples.

But the coolest thing? He prays for YOU and me.

Right now. Even as you read this, He's praying for you: "He always lives to intercede for them." (Hebrews 7:25) Jesus is before the throne of God interceding on our behalf 24/7/365 because Satan is there accusing us 24/7/365. Jesus intercedes for us so that God sees us through His sacrifice, through His blood shed for us, and sees us as blameless.

Jesus didn't pray for wealth, fame, or more social media followers. He prayed for things and people that could make an eternal difference.

Those prayers make beautiful music for heart and soul.

May the same be said of us.
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When We Need to Know Who We Are Praying To


Whether it's first thing in the morning, or before turning in for the night, prayer can be hard on some days.

Depending on our circumstances, some days we want God to be massive and huge. We need Him to take on our bullies and win with one hand behind His back.

Other days, we need Him close enough to catch our tears and hear words we can only whisper.

The good news is that He is both.

Simply looking at the universe confirms that God is far bigger than we can ever grasp. We live on a little blue globe that orbits in one of hundreds of billions of galaxies in the known universe. In fact, Earth isn't even the biggest deal in our own solar system next to Jupiter.

Yet Earth is the one privileged place where God chose to place His most precious creation: mankind. We are the only things in ALL of creation made in His image.

Heaven's expanse declares the size and glory of God. We cannot measure God with a tape measure, ruler or yard stick. In the economy of the universe, He is measured in light years. Light travels at 186,000 miles per second and one light year is 5.58 trillion miles.

Yet God didn't even lift a finger to create the heavens and earth: "By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, their starry host by the breath of His mouth." Psalm 33:6

Our God breathes stars and galaxies.

Yet in spite of God's vastness, He chose to make us. Fragile, demanding, unruly, self-centered us. We are fearfully and wonderfully made by God Himself.

Out of the seven billion people currently on Earth, no two are alike. For each person, God mapped out and wrote a brand new DNA code that had never before existed, nor will ever exist in the future. You and I are the definition of "custom made."

Each of the 75 trillion cells in your body consists of a DNA that makes up unique, miraculous you. You may not think that you are special, but you are a walking miracle.

God promised that for those who trust in Him, He will hold them in the palm of His hand and carry them all of the days of their life.

Even when we can't fathom His bigness, even when we can't feel His closeness, He promised us something incredible:

"He is before all things, and in him all things hold together." Colossians 1:17

So when you're facing your toughest day, your hardest trial, how do you know if God can hold you together? Because He promised it.

He may not change your circumstances -- He didn't change them for Jesus -- but He works in every circumstance to bring about good.

So as we pray, we are communicating with the universe maker who became mankind's Savior.

The star breather who became our sin bearer.

And He holds us in the palm of His mighty hand simply because of how much He loves us.
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The Prayer that Works 100% of the Time


One day Jesus stepped away from his disciples to pray. When he returned, the disciples asked him, "Lord, teach us to pray" (Luke 11:1). 

Now these Jewish men, for the most part, grew up attending synagogue. They knew how to pray. But they noticed something different when Jesus prayed. So they swallowed religious pride and asked Jesus to teach them.

Some people say that prayer is "just a conversation with Jesus." However, Jesus would be the first to say that there's much more to it than that. We need to learn to pray -- just like we needed to learn how to walk, talk and eat. 

As a new Christian 25 years ago, I had to learn that prayer was more than just something uttered before a meal. But it wasn't until five years ago that I actually began praying on a regular basis. The journey has been life-changing. I learned how to pray from Jesus' words in Matthew 6.

This model for prayer works 100% of the time. 

"When you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him." Matthew 6:6-8

It was odd for Jesus to say to go into your room and close the door, because most houses in his day consisted of one large room and no doors. But in our culture, we clearly understand. Prayer means getting alone with God, away from other people to shut out distractions, turn off technology, and focus solely on God.

Jesus let us in on a secret: God will reward us. Of course we don't pray pray to receive reward, yet Jesus tells us that reward will come. He's not referring to cars, a special relationship or money, but something FAR greater: peace.

He teaches us to pray like this:

(1) Declaring God's greatness: "Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name." Matthew 6:9

Jesus invites us to get up close with the One who seems most far away. God invites us to be near Him with no strings attached. And His name, above all, is hallowed. It is holy, set apart and reveals God's identity: Father. A tender and intimate relationship, yet one full of authority. This part of the prayer invites us to pause and remember the bigness of our God in the smallness of our existence. And yet the attention of our all-knowing and all-powerful God rests on US. The more time we spend in this part of the prayer, the less time we'll to spend on the rest. Declaring all of God's greatness provides proper perspective about the significance of our own issues.

(2) Surrendering your will: "Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven." Matthew 6:10

This is where we need to pause and hit the brakes. In other words, before we focus on our own kingdoms, we focus on His. We all have our own kingdoms and desire to be King in our land. We want God to fix our kingdoms first. But this prayer declares to God that we are more committed to His kingdom than to ours.

We also have our own wills. We want what we want when we want it. In other words, my will be done. But the purpose of prayer is to surrender our will, not to impose it. This determines how long we pray. If our will lines up with God's, then it's easy. When Jesus' will lined up with the Father's will to raise Lazarus from the dead, that prayer took all of 20 seconds because they were in agreement. But when Jesus had to lay down his life, he prayed all night. We need to remain here until we can pray with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength, "Thy will be done." Even if we hate it or disagree with it. We bend our will to His, because we don't want a god so small that he bends his will to ours.

"Thy will be done" works 100% of the time. When we pray like that we will be rewarded -- not with money or fame -- but with His peace that passes all understanding.

(3) Acknowledging our dependence on God: "Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one." Matthew 6:11

We close out our prayers by thanking God for His provision (daily bread), pardon (forgiveness), and protection (from temptation and evil). Only at the end do we finally arrive at the "give us" part. Notice how it comes LAST? It's not because our concerns aren't important, they are just not more important than declaring God's greatness or surrendering our will to His. 

So our prayer model is simple:  
   Declare
   Surrender
   Acknowledge
D - S - A. It means "Don't Start off Asking."

This prayer works 100% of the time. Not because it moves God.
But because it moves us.  

Each morning, will you commit to meet with God in prayer? He's waiting for you.
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When We Need to Slow Down and Focus on Advent



Sometimes the speed of life races past at the speed of light.

Way. Too. Fast.

In this season of Advent, I am intentionally pausing. To be still. To reflect on the Light of the World that came to us at Christmas.

Throughout this month, I am sharing daily Advent meditations on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest paired with pictures that I've snapped around the world.

Rather than a weekly blog, we're enjoying a daily reminder -- to let the season breathe. To allow Him to breathe new life into us.

I warmly invite you to join me. Let's apply the brakes before we break into a thousand glass pieces this Christmas.

So until January, look for these daily meditations instead of this weekly blog:



I pray that you and your loved ones enjoy a blessed, holy Christmas!
  With love from my home to yours.