The “Will” of God

In my bathroom there is a very special window. It’s not particularly beautiful. It’s actually quite ordinary. It’s not the window itself that makes it a treasure. It’s the precious gift God left me on that window.

I don’t know about you, but as a momma of four children, the bathroom is my place of refuge. It’s my getaway, my sanctuary, and my prayer closet. When my kids were younger it was the place I could steal away for a few sacred minutes to breathe and eat chocolate (no judging, every momma of littles should have a chocolate stash in the bathroom). As my kids got older, it became the one quiet room in the house. I spent many hours crying out to God in that bathroom. Wrestling with my sin and my weakness, begging God for wisdom, and asking God to remind my scattered, distracted heart that His love for me is real and constant and intimate and personal.

A few years ago after a particularly difficult day of parenting, I was spent. I wondered aloud, asking God if He could hear me and if He knew how much I needed Him. I was angry and frustrated with myself and wondered how God could love such a messed up sinner woman. I took a long shower and poured out my heart to my King. It was late and I was so weary. I ended up wrapped in my towel on my knees weeping before God. I made my way to grab some tissue and looked out the window to admire the stillness and quiet of the trees in our backyard and I noticed something odd. As the foggy steam from the shower began to clear I saw something on that window that left me in a big ol’ puddle of tears. The message on my window said simply, “I WILL LOVE YOU.” I recognized the writing as the handiwork of my youngest son—a pudgy finger squeakily writing a love note on my window pane. A love note that God knew would reach down and wreck my heart and be the perfect reminder of my Abba’s love.

I Will Window

While the note was just what I needed, it was the construction that started me pondering. I’m a lover of words and grammar is especially meaningful—a true word nerd. “I will love you” is an odd choice for an eight-year-old, but as I thought about it, I realized my personal, intimate God knew this particular phrasing wouldn’t go unnoticed.

I WILL is the future perfect progressive verb tense. This means it is an action that is ongoing. It is a promise. If you make an “I WILL” statement, you are stating not what might happen, but what is certain to happen. It is a statement with the promise of fulfillment. In this case, a promise not just for a specific time, but a promise that will continue. Now every time I look at that window I’m reminded that God’s love is not just something I experienced in the past, not just something I am experiencing in the present, but will continue to be given. Because God’s love is not based on my performance. It is based on the love of God in Christ. God WILL love me because of Jesus.

After my window encounter, I started thinking more about the many I WILL promises God left for us to discover in His Word. They are powerful reminders of who God was, who He is, and who HE WILL be for those who love Him. I began looking through and underlining all the I WILL’s I could find. Here are a few of my favorites:

“Just as I was with Moses, I WILL BE with you. I WILL NOT leave your nor forsake you.” Joshua 1:5

I WILL go before you and will make the crooked places straight.” Isaiah 45:2 (KJV)

“So you will be my people and I WILL be your God.” Jeremiah 30:22

“Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden and I WILL give you rest.” Matthew 11:28

“Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I WILL listen to you.” Jeremiah 29:12

He will tend his flock like a shepherd; He will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom and gently lead those that are with young.” Isaiah 40:11 (a sweet promise for mommas of littles)

“Fear not for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I WILL strengthen you, I WILL help you, I WILL uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:10

“And the Lord WILL guide you continually.” Isaiah 58:11

“I am the Lord, and I WILL bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I WILL deliver you from slavery to them, and I WILL redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment. I WILL take you to be my people, and I WILL be your God, and you shall know that I am the Lord your God.” Exodus 6: 6-7

Take some time today and walk through the Word focused on God’s “wills.” Whatever you may be facing, He has provided a promise of His presence, His provision, His protection, His grace, His mercy.

As I thought more about the I will’s of God, I recognized something even more incredible. The most beautiful, most powerful thing about the I WILL’s of God is the reality that the promises have been fulfilled in Jesus Christ. The I WILL has become the I AM of Jesus.

“For no matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘YES’ in Christ!” 2 Corinthians 1:20

Today choose to rejoice in the promises and praise the Promise Keeper. He loved you yesterday. He loves you today. And He WILL love you forever.

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Jesus will love you forever!

 

The Fellowship of the Broken

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in ALL our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 2 Corinthians 1:3-4

We sat in a circle. Four of us in our flimsy plastic chairs hands clasped together, heads bowed, tears flowing freely. Two of us had never met before that holy moment of desperate prayer. All we knew is we had a shared sorrow. We had experienced the deep grief of miscarriage.

It’s strange to meet someone and find yourself deeply and instantaneously connected. Especially when it’s a connection you never wanted and hoped you’d never have. For my new young momma friend, it was a grief beyond words. She was raw and vulnerable. As we talked for a few minutes, I realized she lost her baby at the same time I’d lost mine—13 weeks. A time when you feel pregnant and feel safe sharing the news with family and friends. Then a visit to the doctor reveals a silent heart. The rest, for both of us, was a whirlwind of tears and denial and anger and anguish and fear, letting the reality of loss seep into my soul. I remember driving away from the doctor’s office that day thinking even the color of the sky had changed. The world seemed greyer, darker, drearier.

As I held this precious momma’s hand, I knew how to pray for her. I knew the anguish that filled her soul. Oh how I wish she never had to walk this broken path. We talked about all the platitudes people offer to comfort your broken heart. Well-meaning friends and family, who truly only want to make things better, often serve to pour salt into an already pexels-photo-54547agonizing wound. I remember, for me, it was the “Be thankful you’ve got three healthy kids at home” reminder. I was thankful. But I missed this precious soul I would never get to meet this side of heaven. I needed to remember this child and grieve this child—even if I never held him or her physically, I held the dream of them in my heart. Reorienting my life without THIS child would take time and tears.

Right after my doctor visit, I met a dear friend who also walked through this pain. I knew she would let me cry, but she would also speak truth. She reminded me of the goodness of God in the heartbreaks of life. She reminded me of His great love for me and this child. She reminded me of God’s comfort and His promise to never leave me nor forsake me. She reminded me that He is near to the broken-hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. And this precious friend, after some time of letting me grieve, reminded me that I was to give away the comfort He had given me during the darkest days.

So there we sat in our little circle. The friend God allowed to comfort me all those years ago and me; offering the compassion and comfort we found through our heartache to this precious one who was now walking through this desert place. Hearts aching, tears flowing, grieving the reality of this sinful world and the death and sorrow that are certainties in this fallen place. Yet as we prayed and openly, honestly laid our sorrows before the Lord, pexels-photo-129859He brought the peace only He could give. He reminded us of His good gifts, even in the midst of our hurt and pain. He reminded us that He uses these moments of grief to draw us closer to His heart. When we find fellowship with Him in the darkest, most broken places of life, we find His love more extravagant, more remarkable, more dependable, more real, more tangible, than we ever have before.

Walking through Job again recently I was reminded of a verse that perfectly expressed the beauty from ashes God gives after deep grief.

“I had heard you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eyes see you.” Job 42:5

When you walk through deep pain and loss as a lover of God and follower of Christ, a beautiful reality begins to break through the grief. It’s as if the veil between heaven and earth is lifted and the longing for home, our true home, becomes an ache beyond words. We don’t just know about God, we have fellowshipped with Him. We have walked through a small taste of the grief and pain he experienced in the death of His son. We don’t just have the words, now we have experienced the pain.

It is in the fellowship of the broken, the road we never desire to walk, the grief we never desire to face, that we find how faithful He is. How comforting He is. How real His grace and peace are, and how He truly does carry us and hold us, and catch our tears in a bottle and draw near to us as we draw near to Him. The fellowship of the broken is not a group we want to belong to, but it is a place we find He is. And when we find Him there and experience His comfort, if we let Him, He will use our pain to allow us to comfort others. In the hands of our Abba, our pain always has purpose.

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“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.”

A Place for Grace

Subtitle: Why is the one place grace should be easiest to give, the hardest place to give it?

By Michele Mann

I remember the moment like it was yesterday. It was a Wednesday night service. I hadn’t planned to be there. I was a newlywed and this was our first church. We’d only been part of the church for a few months and my husband encouraged me to go and get to know some folks. So I went. The service began uneventfully. A worship song, prayer, and then the announcement of a business meeting.

I had never been to a church business meeting, for good reason. All I wanted to do was run for the nearest exit, or maybe go hide under a pew. I’d heard horror stories about how “business” was conducted in church, and I really didn’t want to stick around long enough to see if the stories were true. But I was stuck. And sure enough, it got ugly. Something about the colors of the pews clashing with the carpet. It was so stereotypical and so shallow. It got so heated my young, immature, impressionable heart started to ache. I quietly excused myself and left the sanctuary in tears. I spent the rest of the meeting in a bathroom stall—discouraged, dejected, and just plain sad.

Growing up, church and I had a distant relationship. Oh, I rode the “church bus” from time to time when I was in elementary school (mostly for the bubble gum). But, strange as it may sound, by the time I reached middle school, Jesus and the Bible were integral parts of my life, but church was not. I started noticing the same kids I saw at church were the same kids who were cruel and vindictive and cliquish at school. I decided, as a very pretentious 13-year-old, if those kids were the product of the church, then I’d like none of that. I knew I was a sinner and needed Jesus, and I loved Him, but His church, no thank you.

This began years of struggle. As I read the Bible and grew as a believer, I knew I needed to allow God to change my stinky attitude. In college, I began to serve at a local church where I got a closer glimpse of the body, and it wasn’t pretty. There was gossip and judgmental attitudes and cliques and jealousies and conflicts. It seemed those who were most in need of the love of Christ were the ones who were the most soundly rejected by the church. The people who grew up in the church didn’t welcome the newbies, and heaven help you if you had serious mistakes or wounds in your past. After one dear friend was wounded deeply by a church member, it was all I could take. I was done. I’d be just fine with small group Bible study and campus ministries. Church was way too messy for me.

Then I met my husband. This godly man who grew up in church and saw the mess, but also saw the beauty. He knew how necessary and vital the church was to spiritual growth, to reaching the community, to serving others. I still wasn’t convinced. But I knew the Word. I knew my role as a wife was to be submissive and to follow his leadership. So when we searched for a body of believers, we prayed, we looked for a church that did not compromise the truth of the Bible. We looked for a church close to our community so we could really love and serve our neighbor. We finally felt God’s drawing to a local body. But it was hard. I’m so thankful for a husband who made me go on the weeks I really wanted to stay home. Pretty soon we found a precious group of friends, found places to use the gifts God had given us, and we settled in a bit.

pexels-photo-185432Then came the business meeting. All the emotions I had been keeping at bay piled up and could no longer be contained. I wept bitterly in that church bathroom. I cried out to the Lord from a long wounded place, “This is not how church is supposed to be! This can’t be what you intended! God I want to love your church, but it is so broken. So fractured. All I see is the ugly stuff, God help me see the beauty of your body.”

After a while, I finally gathered up my fractured heart and went back in the sanctuary just as the “meeting” was coming to a close. As I quietly slipped in a back pew, I heard a sweet voice at the microphone. It was Mrs. Thelma. She was an older lady, a tiny thing with eyes filled with love and fire. “Friends,” she said sweetly and gently. “One of my favorite verses is Psalm 19:14, ‘Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer. Now I don’t think our words have been very pleasing to the Lord. Maybe we should spend some time talking to the Lord and making sure our hearts and minds are acceptable to the Lord before we continue.”

I was undone. My heart melted. God used this little lady with the boldness to speak truth in love to begin the alteration process in my heart. God whispered to me that day, “The body is broken because it is full of sinners, like you. But it is not beyond repair. My Saints are here. You’re looking for perfection. You won’t find it this side of heaven. But you can learn here, grow here, serve here. You need to learn to give grace and to offer mercy. You need to look for the true beauty in my Body. The beauty is Jesus Christ. I am the One who gave Myself for broken, messed up souls. I am the beauty, Michele. Seek ME and you will find ME—even in the broken places.”

I’d like to say the journey since then has been easy and pleasant, but it hasn’t. It’s been joyful at times, and it’s been excruciating at times. But what I keep remembering is Christ died for this. The body, as wounded and broken as it is, is His gift to us. We love each other through the ugly, through the pain, and through the victories. The body of Christ is not the perfect utopia I, in my immaturity, thought it should be, but it is a real place, with real people, who are really struggling and need the real love of a real Savior. So I can say, after many long years of seeking Him in the midst of the mess, I love His body and I am so thankful to be a receiver of grace–even in the hard places.

 

Prepare a Feast (Back to Basics)

When I was a newlywed, I was a disaster in the kitchen. Couldn’t boil an egg, couldn’t bake a cake, couldn’t whip up mashed potatoes kind of disaster. Growing up I lived with a wonderful grandmother who enjoyed cooking, but I was too foolish and preoccupied to learn. As a new wife, our growing stack of take out menus only served to feed my frustration about my lack of culinary skill. Ironically, my first job was in the editorial department of a cooking magazine. It was a perfect place to study cooking, to find resources, and to ask questions. I was determined to figure out this cooking thing. Slowly, I began to learn the basics. Once I gained some confidence, I moved on to learn more advanced techniques. I’m certainly no Rachel Ray, but I am continually learning the skills I need to make a pretty yummy meal—all on my own. And while making a home cooked meal takes more time and attention, the results are undeniably more satisfying.

When it comes to Bible Study, many of us have the same problem I had in the kitchen. We never learned the skills necessary to study the Bible on our own. We become content with grabbing something from the drive through or just ordering something off the take out menu. We get fed, yes, but we’re constantly dependent on someone else to do the preparing and cooking. We appreciate the end result, but since we didn’t help prepare the food, the satisfaction is superficial and fleeting, and it can be costly. As followers of Christ, we need to learn how to feast on the Word of God, not just eat from a table someone else has prepared. There are delicacies God created for you alone to enjoy; food that nourishes your soul in a way nothing else can.

So how do we learn how to feast of the Word of God?
If you’re brand new to Bible study, or you’ve spent far too long eating from someone else’s table, here are a few tips to help you inventory your spiritual “kitchen” as you learn to prepare your own feast.

Keep it simple.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYour first attempts in the kitchen shouldn’t involve a four course gourmet meal. It takes time and practice to gain confidence as a cook. It’s the same with Bible study, but getting started isn’t as intimidating as it seems. In fact, Bible study is often best if you start simply.

First, pray. Ask the Lord to lead your mind, your heart, your spirit.

Second, listen to the leading of the Holy Spirit as you study.

Your first attempts may seem overwhelming or unproductive (just like my first attempt at roasting a chicken), but be diligent. Over time you’ll become more comfortable starting out with just the Word and the Spirit.

Be Sure You Have the Necessities.

spices-flavorings-seasoning-foodJust like it’s important to have your pantry stocked with the necessities, it’s vital you have the essentials for studying the Word. Unlike the pantry, the essentials for Bible study are few—just two things really–a Bible and a journal (and your favorite pen, of course). If you’re overwhelmed with the choices available, here are some helps for choosing a Bible that is the most beneficial for you.

Pick a translation: There are many translations of the Bible available—which can be a bit intimidating and overwhelming. If you were to rank them on a scale of closest to the original Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic texts, the King James Version would be closest, with paraphrases of the Biblical text, like The Message, on the other end of the spectrum. Since the language of the King James version is antiquated, an easier-to-understand, but closer to original translation text like the English Standard Version (ESV) or the New International Version (NIV) is a great choice for Bible Study.

Study Bible or no Study Bible? Study Bibles typically have additional text that includes commentary on scripture. While these Bibles are good resources, it keeps you in the habit of depending on someone else’s interpretation of a passage of scripture. It’s a comfort and help to have instant access to delving deeper in a passage, but the goal is to learn how to discover truth on your own. Study Bibles are useful, but for your main study, use a commentary-free Bible.

Why keep a journal? There will be some days God reveals an amazing insight. There will be days you discover a new connection or revelation. There will be days you wonder why a verse or chapter is even included in the scripture text. No matter what you learn or what you’re pondering, write it down. Recording your thoughts and what you’re learning may lead you to a new discovery down the road, or it may provide some much-needed encouragement and exhortation as you continue to learn and grow.

Don’t Be Afraid to Use New Tools.

pexels-photo-211760Every cook knows having good tools makes preparing a meal much easier, but sometimes the tools can be a bit intimidating. It’s the same with Bible Study. Though using them well may take time and practice, having the right tools turns Bible Study into a great adventure in discovery.

Concordance. A concordance can help in understanding the nuances of language in the Bible. You can take any verse and look up the original translation in Hebrew or Greek. The translation gives more specific and precise definitions to the words used in the English text. This can help tremendously in gaining deeper understanding of a verse or passage. You can also use a concordance to discover where a specific word is used in other places in scripture, which helps in finding connections and giving a richer understanding.

Commentary. An excellent commentary is an essential Bible study tool. But it should only be used after you have spent ample time wading through a passage. Be cautious in choosing a Bible commentary. There are great overall commentaries by a variety of authors, like Moody Bible Commentary, or commentaries by specific authors, like Matthew Henry or Warren Wiersbe, available. Ask your pastor or a Bible study teacher who they use most often.

Bible Dictionary. A Bible dictionary will help give more insight on some of the practical details of the Bible. Say you’re unsure about the preparation of the drink offering or looking for some historical insight on Herod the Great. A Bible dictionary will offer needed details to put the pieces of the puzzle together.

Bible Atlas. So much of what happens in the Bible has to do with place. When I discovered the Garden of Gethsemane was in the shadow of Herod’s temple, the anguish of Christ in the garden before his trial and execution was even more powerful. And when I discovered how close the Israelites were to the Promised Land as they wandered in the desert those 40 years, I took away a much deeper spiritual principle from the text.

Be Sure to Share

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne of the best things about cooking is finding a new recipe and sharing it with friends. It’s the same with Bible Study. Whether it’s a formal Bible study or simply getting together with a group of friends, it is essential to have a place to pour out your heart. Growing with a group provides accountability and iron sharpening, and you learn much more as you listen to what God is teaching others. We were made for relationship and studying God’s Word together is a beautiful way to grow in knowledge and understanding of the Word, and a wonderful place to practice the truths you’re learning.

One of my favorite Bible study teachers Jen Wilkins says, “The heart can’t love what the mind doesn’t know.” In our relationship with God, it is so important that we get to know Him. That we develop our own deep, abiding communion with Him. The Bible is His gift to us. It is His love letter to us. It is His invitation to taste and see that the Lord is good. Too long I depended on what other’s learned about God. I sat at their table and ate of their delights. And it never satisfied my soul. When I learned to step in the kitchen and prepare my own table with the Lord, I found the morsels God gives are sweet and filling. Pulling up a seat and feasting on the Word of God truly does satisfy the soul like nothing else.

“How precious is your steadfast love, O God! The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings. They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights. For with you is the fountain of life, in your light do we see light.” Psalm 36:7-9

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Tell the Story

People can deny Christ, dispute Scripture and ignore prophecy, but they cannot deny, dispute or ignore God’s transformational power in someone’s life. –Tracie Miles, Proverbs 31 Ministries

It’s that time of year again. The time when we gather together with family and friends to give thanks and celebrate the arrival of the baby who would save the world. For many, it’s a joyful time, full of anticipation and excitement. For others, it’s a time of dread, full of anxiety and angst. I’ve found myself on both sides of the holiday conundrum. But I recently read a story about a wise father-in-law and a humble son-in-law and got some insight into how to make even the toughest holiday get-togethers a bit more hopeful.

I come from a mixed bag of nominal Christians, agnostics, and atheists. I never knew what it was to talk about Jesus or the Bible at family gatherings. I grew up with the understanding that you didn’t talk about faith to others. Faith was something private, like your political views. So when my family got together with extended family, there was this strange camaraderie of silence on the important stuff of life. Conversation was lively and fun, but without much substance. Don’t get me wrong, my family was loving and kind. But without acknowledging the greatest Love, there was always something missing, and as a follower of Christ I always felt compelled and constrained. Compelled to speak the truth; yet constrained by opening a Pandora’s box of controversy and anger and offense–good-bye happy holiday memories.

As the years have gone by, and extended family gatherings have become a rare event, I’ve searched for a place of grace. A place where I could use these moments to love my family without neglecting to speak of the greatest Love in my life. Then I read the story of Moses and Jethro and I found some key principles to making the holiday gathering purposeful.

The story of Moses and Jethro is at an odd place in the Bible. It’s directly after the Israelite’s victory over the Amalekites thanks to Moses’s outstretched arms to God (with some help from Aaron and Hur), and God’s declaration that He was the banner over His people. And directly before the declaration of the Mosaic Covenant in Exodus 19. It’s almost as if the Holy Spirit set the pause button to give us a glimpse into the daily life of these wandering peoples.

mosesandjethroatmidian-chosenpeople-creationofalessergod-foundationIn the story, Jethro reunites Moses with this wife, Jethro’s daughter, and their two sons. We know a few things about Jethro. Besides being Moses’s father-in-law, he is introduced in Exodus 2 and the first verses of Exodus 18 as a priest of Midian. He has seven daughters, and he welcomed a “stranger from a strange land” into his family. We can infer from our interaction with Jethro that he was generous and kind and that he loved Moses. And we can tell from Exodus 18:7 that Moses respected and loved his father-in-law.

As we begin the story, Jethro says he had “heard of all that God had done for Moses and for Israel his people, how the Lord had brought Israel out of Egypt.” (18:1) As Jethro entered the camp, he was warmly welcomed by Moses and they spent the evening catching up on the events of the people of God. Can you imagine that conversation? Moses himself telling the story of the exodus and the parting of the Red Sea. What we do know is after Moses “told his father-in-law all that the Lord had done to Pharaoh and to the Egyptians for Israel’s sake, all the hardship that had come upon them in the way, and how the Lord had delivered them.” Jethro did a few things:

He REJOICED in all the good that the Lord had done to Israel. (v. 9)

He BLESSED the Lord. (v. 10)

He CLAIMED allegiance to the one true God. (v. 11)

He SACRIFICED burnt offerings to God. (v. 12)

When Jethro came to visit Moses, he’d heard of God’s goodness. But after talking to Moses and hearing his story of God’s deliverance, HE KNEW GOD.

So how do we take this phenomenal interaction of Jethro and Moses and translate it to the contemporary holiday table?

christmas-clipart-images-christmas2   Listen closely. James tells us to be slow to speak, quick to listen, and slow to become angry. Before Moses spoke of the deliverance of Israel, he asked Jethro about his welfare. He genuinely wanted to hear how his father-in-law was doing. Listening is one of the most tender, compassionate ways we can intentionally love our family.

christmas-clipart-images-christmas2  Speak honestly. Moses spoke freely of God’s deliverance and His goodness. And He didn’t leave out the difficult stuff. When we share our lives as followers of Christ, we often believe we need to sugarcoat our struggles. As if we’re trying to protect God, or make following Him more palatable or pleasing. Truth is, being a follower of Christ isn’t easy. We suffer hardship. We walk through stinky circumstances. Basically, we live a real life. But we also serve a real God who gives us hope in the hard places and replaces despair with peace and sadness with unexplainable joy. When we speak truthfully about our lives and about our God, when we tell our own story of deliverance, then HE gets the glory and HE becomes the focus, not us or our circumstances. And a suffering world needs to hear that there is hope.

christmas-clipart-images-christmas2  Speak gently. 1 Peter 3:15 tells believers to always be prepared to give a reason for the hope that we have, but to share that hope with gentleness and respect. We are not called to badger or argue anyone into the kingdom of God. We are called to honor others above ourselves and consider others better than ourselves. Remembering that a gentle answer turns away wrath is vital for weathering a potentially tempestuous holiday conversation.

christmas-clipart-images-christmas2  Speak boldly. Moses was not afraid to speak of all God had done. One of my biggest obstacles is timidity. I worry that I’m going to offend someone. I’m worried I won’t be able to answer a question or a retaliation. But Paul speaks to this fear and his words have become my constant prayer, “To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel.” Ephesians 6:19

My prayer for you and your family, whether you celebrate with a family of Christ followers, or whether you celebrate with a mixed bag of wonderful creations who simply don’t know their Creator yet, is a joy-filled, Christ-focused holiday season. Listen closely, speak honestly, gently, and boldly of all that Jesus has done and is doing for you. The reality of His goodness and His salvation is definitely worth a celebration!!

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It’s Okay To Not Be Okay

by Michele Mann

restaurant-person-woman-coffeeWe met for an early (but not too early) breakfast. We chatted and laughed in between sips of caffeine ( because mid-morning is still morning). We discussed husbands and kids and ailing parents and busy lives. We talked about the struggle of trying to juggle an endless to do list with maintaining healthy relationships with Jesus and our husbands and our kids. She briefly mentioned a couple of struggles she was walking through, and then quickly added, “But I’m okay.” I nodded and listened for a few more minutes as she slowly stirred her coffee. She had to scoot out for an appointment, so I prayed for her and she darted out the door.

As I watched her leave, my heart sank. She most definitely wasn’t okay. She was drowning in the abyss between desire and expectation and reality. I’ve been there. It’s a hard place to live—made even harder when we fall prey to the lie that we have to hide our heartache. I’ve gone about my days with a placid smile and a sorrowful heart. I’ve said all those things a follower of Christ is supposed to say when life gets hard like, “God is faithful,” or “God’s got this,” or “God is good.” When all the while my mind and heart are wrestling with doubt and fear and wondering if God is really there, if He really cares. I want someone to tell me it’s okay to not be okay. I want someone to remind me that God is okay with me not being okay.

When I am in that dark and desperate place my mind wanders back to a trio of siblings. Three whose hearts were knit with each other and knit with the heart of the Messiah. They loved well. So well, in fact, that Jesus spent as much time with them as He could when He walked the earth. He made their little house in Bethany, just a couple of miles outside of Jerusalem, His getaway. Even Jesus needed a quiet place to reflect and rest. And the siblings loved hosting Him. They knew He was the Savior of the world, but to them He was also a cherished friend.

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The Resurrection of Lazarus – Wilhelm Kotarbinski

So on that dark day when their brother became ill, the sisters knew whom to call. They expected Him to rush to their side. But the days passed and there was no sign of the Savior. Mary and Martha sat vigil by Lazarus’s bedside waiting, waiting for Jesus to come. But He did not. Lazarus took his last breath and the sister’s wept and mourned and still no Jesus.

Four days after the sisters laid their beloved brother in his tomb, Jesus arrived. Martha, the sister who was rebuked by Jesus for chiding her sister for sitting at His feet, was the first of the sisters to find Jesus. But Mary, the one who poured out her precious perfume at the feet of Jesus and sat at His feet and listened to Him for hours and hours, stayed home.

Martha met Jesus with words of a tested, but steadfast faith. “Lord if you had been here, our brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” But Mary sat at home in her grief. Her heart broken. Her eyes swollen with tears. Why had He waited so long? Why didn’t He save Lazarus? Mary was awakened from her anguish by her sister, who took her aside privately to tell her the Teacher was here and was calling for her. Mary quickly got up and made her way to him. Through her sorrow, she made the same statement to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” But she could not utter words of faith, her broken heart wouldn’t allow it. At that moment, Mary was at the end of herself, and was raw before her Messiah. She had no words, only tears. Jesus did not chastise her lack of faith or judge her honest words of despair. He did something so tender, so kind, so beautiful. He wept.

I’ve often thought back to this encounter when my heart is broken. What was it that broke the heart of Jesus? Was it simply His compassion for Mary? Was it His heartache that she had to suffer such agony in this sin-sick world? Was it His sorrow over the reality of death? Was it a combination of all these things? Whatever the reason, the comfort comes in knowing Jesus understood Mary’s pain and cried with her. And like Mary, when I come to the end of myself, I allow Jesus to reveal His glory. Mary found she could be real and raw before Jesus and He didn’t condemn her, He wept with her. He understood her pain and the depth of His love was revealed in more beauty and power than she could’ve ever imagined.

As time has passed, I’ve prayed much for my friend. I let her talk and encourage her to be honest before God. I tell her it’s okay to not be okay. I tell her it’s in those deepest, darkest, end of ourselves moments God is able to be to us exactly what we need Him to be—our Rescuer, our Redeemer, our Friend. Because it is not in our strength or our ability or our talent that we are made strong—in God’s strange, absurd, upside down world—it’s in our weakness, in our lack, that we find God is all we need. And He is okay with us not being okay. In fact, He welcomes our broken hearts.

“Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” 2 Corinthians 12:9

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It Is Well

by Michele Mann

“Mr. and Mrs. Mann, I’m so sorry to tell you, but your son has a golf-ball size mass in his brain.” My husband and I listened carefully to the young neurosurgeon explain the results of the CT scan. “We’ll have to do an MRI to confirm, but it’s likely lymphoma.”

My heart began to race as the reality of the word “cancer” permeated the air like a thickening cloud. As I fought to keep my emotions at bay, my mind was clear and my words steady and sure, “But you aren’t sure. Am I correct? I mean, you don’t know conclusively.”

“That’s correct,” the doctor cautiously responded. “But it looks cancerous.”

I looked at the doctor, then looked at my husband, Jeff, and with the confident childlike faith only God can give I said matter-of-factly, “We don’t know what we don’t know. And we can’t be afraid of what we do not know. We rest on what we do know.”

img_3447We followed the doctors out of the back room of bad news and returned to Nate’s room in the ER. I gazed at my 11-year-old son, who just a week ago was putting together the Lego sets he had gotten for Christmas. On New Year’s Day he woke up with a slight headache we thought was the onset of the flu. When the headache persisted, but no other symptoms appeared, we thought it might be sinus related. As the headache worsened and couldn’t be relieved with the usual pain meds, we visited the ER, and got a migraine diagnosis. After migraine medications didn’t touch the pain, we knew we were dealing with something more sinister. We returned to the ER early on a Tuesday morning, and by midmorning got the CT results—a mass was sitting in the center of Nate’s brain.

As they wheeled Nate down the hall to the MRI room, Jeff and I followed closely, holding Nate’s hand and shielding his eyes from the bright lights that had become unbearable for him. The anesthesiologist and the radiologist met us. They whisked Nate away as the nurse pointed us to a small waiting room.

As we took our seats in that little room, I kept repeating to Jeff, “We don’t know what we don’t know. We rest on what we do know.” And what did we know? There is a God. He is real. He is faithful. He is personal. He is good. He is full of grace. He is healer. He gives eternal life. He rescues from the penalty of death. He gives life here in this temporary place. He promises He will prepare a permanent dwelling for His kids. He knows every day ordained for us. He knows the end from the beginning. I know Him. Jeff knows Him. My son, Nate, knows Him. And He knows us.

After we brought our list of “knowns” before our Abba, we both heard the same gentle whisper “Now rest. It is well.” We went to our phones. Jeff found the old hymn, and I found a newer rendition of the song. We listened to the words over and over and over again. As I listened to the words, I recalled the story I’d recently read about the author of the hymn.

Horatio Spafford was a successful Chicago lawyer. He and his wife Anna had five children, a son and four daughters. The Spafford’s lost their young son tragically and suffered financial loss in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. In 1873, Spafford sent his wife and daughters ahead on a vacation to Europe. He was kept behind by business, but promised to join his family soon. He found out a few days later that the ship had collided with another vessel. His four daughters perished. As Mr. Spafford was traveling to be reunited with his grieving wife, his ship sailed over the very place his daughters perished. It was at that place, out of a grieving heart, the words to “It is Well” were birthed.

As I prayed and pondered in those dark moments, I heard my Abba whisper, “Do you trust me? Are you willing to walk out what you say you believe? Will you surrender Nate to me? Can you say ‘It is well’ even if he has to walk a road of suffering? Even if the road he walks ends in death? Do you believe my words? Do you trust me?”

It was at that moment, I let the grief and shock and pain well up and overflow. In agony, I cried out to God from the depth of my soul. I did not like what my God was asking of me. But, like Peter, all I could say was, “To whom else shall I go? You alone have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:38) I have staked my life on the truth of Jesus Christ, the resurrection and the life. I believe He died so those who accept the forgiveness offered through Him might live. If I believe it, then I must trust what He says is true. So I laid my son, my beautiful boy, on the altar and surrendered him to the One who loves Him more than I could ever imagine. My flesh cried out for God to spare my son, but the Spirit in me knew the answer to the question of surrender must be “Yes, Lord.” There was no other choice.

pexels-photo-108447After that heart wrenching hour of surrender, the Lord began to whisper His Word. As Nate was wheeled out the MRI back to his room, all I could think was “I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth.” I kept thinking, “Am I crazy? Here I am waiting for potentially devastating news and all I can do is give praise to God. This isn’t natural.” Indeed it wasn’t. Looking back now I realize it was supernatural. Supernatural grace. Supernatural peace. Supernatural love. At those moments, as we waited in the dark, God poured out His Spirit. He met us moment by moment.

When the neurosurgeon told us the MRI did seem to indicate lymphoma, but there was a slight chance it could be a brain abscess—he just needed the attending neurosurgeon to look at the results to confirm—we blessed the Lord. And we prayed. We asked all our friends and family to bombard the heavenlies on Nate’s behalf. Just as a child is free to ask her father for anything, I knew I could boldly go before the throne of grace with my request. But now my request was in full submission to my Father’s will. I had to trust He knew what was best. Even if I didn’t like the answer.

Two hours after we got the initial diagnosis, the attending neurosurgeon whisked in Nate’s room. Dr. Rocque (pronounced “rock,” so not kidding, only God) sat by the bed, and briskly announced, “Well, it looks like it’s a brain abscess. The only way we can tell is if we do surgery and puncture the mass. If we get pus, we know it’s an abscess. But we need to do surgery now. The risk is great if there is an infection.”

Jeff and I sat by Nate’s bed and stared at the doctor. We weren’t sure we heard him correctly. We asked questions. Dr. Rocque patiently answered. Then we prayed over Nate and sent him off to surgery. After he left we just looked at each other and wondered aloud, “What is God doing?” Eventually, we wandered to the hospital lobby where so many precious friends were waiting for us, standing with us during the darkest hours. God’s presence was so tangible, so real. His grace so abundant. It’s hard even now to describe the peace in the midst of what should have been our most anxious moments. After two hours, pexels-photo2we got the call from Dr. Rocque. As he came off the elevator to meet us he was smiling as he announced, “We have pus!” We rejoiced and we laughed at God’s goodness and mercy. We wept over His grace. We blessed the Lord at all times. His praise was indeed on our lips.

After an exhausting two weeks of tests to determine the cause of Nate’s abscess, and lots of trial and error in finding the right antibiotics to treat the bacteria that had invaded Nate’s brain, we were able to head home. As we loaded the car, the Spirit whispered, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits.” The verse played like a recording over and over and over in my mind. I knew it was a Psalm, but had no idea which one. After we were settled in at home, I looked up the verse and as I read the words I allowed myself once again to take a deep breath and lay everything bare before the Lord. I wept tears of joy and relief and gratefulness and wonder at God’s undeserved mercies. “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy.” Psalm 103: 2-4

For years before Nate’s illness, I talked with friends about my awe of God’s forgiveness. I couldn’t believe that He would forgive my sin, that He would make me clean. It struck me often that the greater healing was not physical, but spiritual. I said the words, but now I walked them out. And I knew His goodness was no longer an ideology, but truth. Even if Nate’s illness ended in death. Even if God asked me to walk through unbearable agony. Even if my earthbound heart was shattered. He was still good. Because He had already brought me and Jeff and Nate from death to life. Even if Nate died, because of Christ, the ultimate healing had already been given. Before Nate’s illness those were words—afterward, it was reality. He is a good, good Father. And because of Jesus, it is well.

Because of Jesus, it is well.

A Weary Mom’s Secret to Finding Rest

by Michele Mann

“Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Matthew 11:28-29

beach-sand-girl-shore-53120Okay, my precious momma friend, I’m going to ask you an honest question. How are you? I don’t want the usual pat answer. I want an honest answer. How are you? If you’re anything like me, the answer (with a heavy sigh) is WEARY. As a wife and mom, we’re in demand. All. The. Time. Mommas wear so many hats it’s hard to remember exactly which hat we’re wearing at any given moment. During the course of one day, mommas find themselves serving as a Chef, Teacher, Nurse, Counselor, Event Planner, Peacemaker, Policewoman, Folder of laundry, Finder of lost things, Chauffeur, Encourager, Prayer Warrior, Crisis manager–the list could go on and on. In a word, it can be EXHAUSTING. No wonder so many mommas dream of being whisked away to a tropical island where no one will ask “What’s for lunch?” or “Have you seen my baseball cleats?” I’ve talked to so many women who are burned out, worn out, overwhelmed, and just plain tired. They are teetering on the ragged edge, and feel stretched so thin they’re at risk for ripping if any pressure is added. I know that feeling. I’ve been there.

 

Last Spring, as I was in the midst of ending a busy school year, and preparing for a busy summer ahead, I kept pondering and praying through my own demanding life, and I kept thinking about all those mommas I’d listened to and prayed with about their busy lives. I started feeling a heavy weight, and a stinging contradiction. Jesus said if I come to Him I can find rest. So, as a follower of Jesus, instead of haggard and harried, my countenance, my life, should reflect a deep rest of the soul. But too often my life reflected chaos and calamity, not peace and joy. I was stressed and spent and frustrated and angry. I felt like I was missing a perpetual deadline and I was never, ever going to get caught up. I began pleading with my Abba about my calling to serve my husband and children, and my community. I told Him I was willing to surrender whatever I needed to find the rest He promised. What surprised me as I journeyed with Jesus was He didn’t ask me to give up anything. But He did teach me the secret to finding rest. As He often does, God’s answer to my plea was unexpected and much needed. As I searched His heart, these were His instructions:

Press in to Jesus. In my search for rest, my Abba gently took me back to John 15. He reminded me, “Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” NOTHING. Those words resonated in my mind. Apart from the work of Christ, I can do nothing of eternal value; nothing that really matters. But in Him, my work will be fulfilling and fruitful. He gently whispered to me, “Press in, Michele. Press in to me.” Abiding in Christ is the only way to produce viable fruit and the only place I will find real rest. When I press in to Jesus, He becomes greater and I become less. When I press in to Jesus, my striving ends and my faith begins.

trees-countryside-green-chillRemember rest is not always external. Then He took me further in to Matthew 11: 28-29. Each word a balm for my soul. COME. WEARY. BURDENDED. I WILL. GIVE. REST. As I worked my way through the verse, the last phrase captured my attention, “You will find rest FOR YOUR SOULS.” The Lord gently whispered again, “You are called to serve. But you must quit serving in your own strength. Taking my yoke upon you means surrendering completely to my guidance. You must trust me to follow me. In trusting me, your SOUL will find rest.” God did not ask me to give up a commitment or activity. He did ask me to trust Him in the midst of busy days. Trusting Him even as I serve Him physically gives me soul rest. So even when the day is full, my heart is equally full of His truth and His love. That can only happen if I follow step one and ABIDE in Christ daily.

Be grateful. Paul exhorts the believers in Philippi to be anxious about nothing, but to bring all requests to God with thanksgiving. After bringing requests with a grateful heart, then we will find peace that surpasses understanding. If every day I lift up my concerns with an attitude of thanksgiving, then all I HAVE to do becomes all I GET to do. Paul says in Ephesians followers of Christ are created to do good works. As I walk in obedience to my calling, I am walking purposefully and intentionally in step with my King. Being thankful for each assignment, even in the hard places, even when I am stretched, refocuses my attention on the Giver of all good gifts (James 1:17). That, in turn, reminds me to abide in Jesus, which causes my soul to find rest.

So, the secret of finding complete rest is Jesus. Abide in Him. Take His yoke upon you. And be thankful. And there, my precious momma friend, you will indeed find rest for your soul.