Faith-Filled Expectations

Titles are hard. A singer-songwriter friend and I were commiserating about this struggle recently, so I know it’s not just me. The title has to reflect the creative work in 1-5 words, be attention-grabbing and catchy, and not sound cheesy. 

The title for Avenger’s Shadow, book 2 in The Shadows series, came to me while I was working on Midnight Shadow and I went with it, but as I’ve been revising the story, I’ve come to see just how perfect that title is for the book that has formed. It’s truly a work of God and as I saw how well the title fit, I found myself increasingly amazed at how good God is as He works in and through His people. 

After that amazement, came a little twinge of conviction. Why am I always so surprised that God works things out? My amazement says a lot more about the level of my faith than it does about the awesome goodness of our God, doesn’t it? 

I’ve been studying 1 Samuel with my small group and we’re looking at the story of David & Goliath this week in chapter 17. Not only did David expect God to do big things, he wasn’t surprised when God did them. There’s so much that’s noteworthy in this story that I’d encourage you to go back and re-read it for yourself, but I’ll highlight a few things that really stood out to me. 

No one believed in David. His brother ridiculed and insulted him (vs. 28), Saul discouraged him (vs. 33) then tried to equip David with his own gear (vs. 38-39), and Goliath mocked him (vs. 41-44). Yet in the face of this opposition, David’s faith never falters. In fact, here’s his response to Goliath’s mockery.

“You come to me with sword, spear, and javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies – the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. Today the Lord will conquer you, and I will kill you and cut off your head. And then I will give the dead bodies of your men to the birds and wild animals, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel. And everyone assembled here will know that the Lord rescues His people, but not with sword and spear. This is the Lord’s battle, and he will give you to us!” 1 Samuel 17:45-47.

As if that bold statement isn’t enough, the very next thing David does is quickly run to engage Goliath in battle. The words show no hesitation, no doubt, and no fear. David had full confidence that God had sent him and that God would act. Remember that at this time, David was a shepherd, not a trained warrior. He wasn’t part of Saul’s army and presumably had never fought in battle, yet he was precisely the man God chose to bring victory.

It all comes down to faith. Do I believe God will work or don’t I? Do I think I need to have the insight, wisdom, knowledge, or strength to do the work or do I trust God to work, regardless of what I do or don’t bring to the situation? Hebrews 11:34 really emphasizes this: “Their weakness was turned to strength. They became strong in battle and put whole armies to flight.”

As you face the challenges in your life, remember that God has put you where you’re at for a purpose. Pray for eyes to see that purpose, for an attentive and responsive heart that will move according to God’s direction. Like David, you’ll face opposition. You’ll have people try to tell you how things “should” be done. God often works uniquely in situations and what has worked for someone in the past, may be the wrong approach now. David was able to confidently face Goliath because he knew that the victory had nothing to do with him and everything to do with God!

Have you lost your wonder?

“So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen His glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son.” John 1:14

What an amazing truth that verse conveys! The Word, which John 1 clearly reveals as Jesus, became human and made His home among us, revealing to us the heart and glory of God Himself.

As we approached Christmas and my thoughts turned to the reason we celebrate this season, the Lord revealed a shocking truth to me. I had lost my sense of awe over the miracle of Jesus’s birth.

Yet, that is not the response we see in scripture. What happens when the shepherds are told that the Savior has been born? They immediately go see Jesus, then they’re so excited that they can’t stop telling everyone they meet about Him. (Luke 2:8-17)

And the wise men? They traveled far – some estimates say thousands of miles… by foot/camel/horse – at great personal risk and expense, just to see the promised Messiah. When they finally find him, what is their response? They were filled with joy and worshipped the child. (Matthew 2:1-11)

And remember Simeon and Anna? Simeon had literally been waiting to see the promised Savior before he died. When he sees the infant Jesus, he praises God, prophesies, and tells God he’s ready to die in peace. Anna praised God and told everyone nearby about this baby Savior.

In all these responses, there’s a common thread. Joy, wonder, amazement, praise. Do you notice what’s missing? Complacency. Apathy. Casual acceptance.

If we dare to step outside our familiar and comfortable world and try to put ourselves into the story, maybe our perspective changes. Can you imagine being a poor, dirty shepherd who lived outside of “civilized” society and then suddenly having a whole host of heavenly angels tell you – yes, you! – about the birth of the long-awaited Messiah? And that this Messiah, who is God Himself, is also in a dirty stable outside of “civilized” society? Can you imagine traveling thousands of miles on foot, facing robbers and bandits and wild animals, likely spending a small fortune on travel expenses, just to see a child for a short time?

This Christmas season, I’ve been praying that God would restore to me the wonder of the Christmas story… and I hope He does the same for you. May you allow the miracle of Jesus penetrate your heart and transform your thinking, for the birth of Jesus quite literally changed everything.

“The Word gave life to everything that was created, and His life brought light to everyone. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it” John 1:4-5

Dare to not compare

Comparison. It seems hard-wired into the human DNA. We compare brands, compare prices, compare flavors. More dangerously though, we also compare people.

One of the plants in my hibiscus garden produces widely varied flowers. One day, I looked out and saw three blooms on the plant – each distinctly different.

One bloom was the perfect specimen for this variety. The petals were perfectly shaped, the yellow and pink colors perfectly balanced. Another bloom was radiant. Full of deep, vibrant pinks, oranges, and reds, it had very little yellow around the edges and petals that curled outward in an unusual fashion. The third bloom was significantly smaller than the rest. Delicate and rare in its small size, it wasn’t fully opened and could easily be overshadowed by its larger companions.

Each flower was unique and beautiful in its own way. But what if the flowers had human characteristics? What if they were given to comparison?

The radiant flower might feel proud at its bold colors – or inferior at its lack of perfect shape. The perfect flower might feel superior, forgetting that it had nothing to do with how it grew and bloomed. The small flower might feel insignificant or weak, given its lack of size.

Comparison can be such a dangerous road! We look at others to see how we’re measuring up and either feel proud because we’re “doing well” or inferior because we’re “lacking.” The parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector that Jesus told in Luke 18:9-14 illustrates this idea. The Pharisee saw the tax collector and immediately started praising himself, making him arrogant in his own accomplishments. By contrast, the tax collector recognized who he was and how desperately he needed God.

When we compare ourselves to others, we generally land into one of those camps. We’ll either compare ourselves to someone who – by worldly standards – is not doing as well, and will find ourselves puffed up with pride and arrogance or we’ll compare ourselves to someone who seems to have it all together and feel that we’re insufficient.

When Peter tried to compare himself to John in John 21:21-22, Jesus told Peter not to concern himself with John but to just follow Jesus. We’d be so wise to take that counsel to heart! Galatians 6:4-5 tells us: “Pay careful attention to your own work, for then you will get the satisfaction of a job well done and you won’t need to compare yourself to anyone else. For we are each responsible for our own conduct.”

So as you go through your day, resist the urge to compare yourself to anyone else. The ultimate standard is Jesus – to compare to anyone or anything less is a waste of time and detrimental to your well-being and growth. Be like the hibiscus, unconcerned with how you measure up with those around you but stretching toward the Son, for your life comes from Him.

Grow Deep

I planted a few azalea bushes earlier this spring and have been eagerly watching and waiting for them to bloom. As I’ve watched them, though, it occurred to me how little they’ve grown this year. In fact, they appear to be almost the exact same size as when I brought them home from the store!


As I was mentally grumbling about their lack of progress, God reminded me that they may not be growing up, but they’re growing down. They’re putting down strong roots, establishing strength in areas that I can’t see. They may not grow huge this year, but once those roots are established, they’ll grow large and fruitful in the upcoming years.


Life is like that, too. We need to establish strong roots in order to stand firm in the storms of life. Scripture describes this beautifully in Psalm 1:1-3: “Oh, the joys of those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or stand around with sinners, or join in with mockers. But they delight in the law of the Lord, meditating on it day and night. They are like trees planted along the riverbank, bearing fruit each season. Their leaves never wither, and they prosper in all they do.”


Jeremiah 17:7-8 supports this: “But blessed are those who trust in the Lord and have made the Lord their hope and confidence. They are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water. Such trees are not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought. Their leaves stay green, and they never stop producing fruit.”


When we put down roots spiritually, we learn to trust the Lord in the good times, so when times of heat, wind, or drought come, we are able to stand firm and bear fruit, even as those around us – those without deep roots – struggle and wither.


Whatever stage you’re at in your spiritual growth, be sure you’re putting down strong roots. Delight in scripture and meditate on it, avoid evil and be cautious of those who might entice you down a wrong path (Psalm 1). Trust the Lord and put your confidence in Him, not in yourself or your abilities or resources. (Jeremiah 17). Only then will you be strong enough to stand during the storms of life.

Better Together!

Writing is an interesting journey. God teaches me so much through it, not just about writing, but about life.

When I was preparing Faceless for publication, God reinforced how much we need other people as we journey through life. My editorial team read the draft version and offered valuable insights, as they always do… but in this instance, they saved me from a mistake that could have hurt some of my readers by bringing up bad memories from our nation’s not too distant past.

I had written a scene that unintentionally mirrored a domestic terrorist event just a little too closely. Had my friends not pointed out the similarities and raised a red flag, that scene would have remained intact – and could have had very negative and unintended consequences. The replacement scene is so much stronger anyway that I don’t even mourn the loss of the old scene, but I needed that voice of correction and the push to do better.

God reminded me that life is very much like that. We were never intended to walk this path alone. Now, I have a bend toward being the “lone wolf”, so I very well understand the pull toward going it solo. But that’s not how God intended us to be!

Proverbs 27:17 tells us “As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend.” God designed us all differently, with different strengths, weaknesses, and experiences that – when put together, make each of us better.

I’m reminded that this is especially true in our spiritual walk. If you look at the early church in Acts, you’ll see just how important community was… and still is. The church was stronger together at that time, and it’s stronger together today.

Hebrews 10:23-25 shows the value of spiritual community: “Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.”

Did you notice how many times the word “us” appears? Clearly, the writer of Hebrews saw the value in walking through life together.

As we are all beginning to return to life activities after all the shutdowns, I’m sure many people are questioning if they really need to be part of a church. Many of us streamed services online during the pandemic and enjoyed the comfort of hearing God’s word in the comfort of our lounge clothes and living rooms. But just watching church on TV was never how God designed the church to be. It was a blessing during the pandemic, but shouldn’t be considered normal.

God designed the church to be an interactive group of people who live life together. In fact, it’s compared to a body multiple times throughout scripture. YOU are a vital part of the church, whether you realize it or not. You need other believers… and they need you! If you’re questioning your need to be there and belong, I’d encourage you to take a look at the church in Acts. Read Paul’s letters to the churches. You are a vital part of the body of Jesus (aka the church) and the church doesn’t need an amputation!

Not a Victim

“Why are you looking among the dead for someone who is alive? He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead! Remember what He told you back in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be betrayed into the hands of sinful men and be crucified, and that He would rise again on the third day.” Luke 24:5b-7


As we look at the sufferings of Jesus and His crucifixion, I think it’s easy to slip into the mindset of thinking He was a victim of wicked people. Yet that is not what scripture tells us at all!

Did He endure unjust treatment, extreme cruelty, and unimaginable suffering? Absolutely! But was He a helpless victim? No way!


We see throughout Jesus’ life that He knew this was coming. He predicted His suffering, murder, and resurrection to His disciples at least 3 times (Matt 16:21, 17:22-23, 20:17-19).

We see Him head for Jerusalem with a determination to complete His mission (Luke 9:51).


He even had the power and authority to stop it, calling thousands of angels to come and protect Him (Matt 26:53-54), but He refused to use that power. He knew the cross was coming and He also knew it had to come to accomplish God’s great plan of salvation (Matt 26:36-42). He intentionally walked right into the hands of those sent to arrest Him and went without struggle (Matt 26:45-56, John 18:1-11).

After His resurrection, he patiently explained to His disciples that all of these things were foretold long ago (Luke 24:44-46).


Today, as we remember Jesus’ triumph over sin and death, let’s also remember to not look at Him as a helpless victim, but as a mighty warrior who engaged the enemy (sin) and won. He is a champion, not a victim!

Happy Easter, my friends. May you look on the risen Lord and be strengthened, so you may live with the same purpose and boldness that He modeled for us.

Triumphant Light

“The LIGHT shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.” John 1:5


Globally, this has been a year with much darkness – so much sorrow, grief, loss, uncertainty, despair, and struggle. Yet today, we remember that the darkness is temporary. Today we can choose to celebrate that the darkness will never overcome the LIGHT.


Today, we celebrate the day that LIGHT came into the world. We remember that the same LIGHT lives inside everyone who calls on the name of Jesus. And we anticipate the day when that LIGHT will return and set all things right.


“The people who walk in darkness will see a great LIGHT. For those who live in a land of deep darkness, a LIGHT will shine.” Isaiah 9:2


“The One who is the true LIGHT, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.” John 1:9.

“I have seen Your salvation, which you have prepared for all people. He is a LIGHT to reveal God to the nations, and He is the glory of your people Israel!” Luke 2:31-32.


Jesus is the LIGHT, my friends. I pray you see Him and find encouragement today.

Merry Christmas!

Anticipation

Anticipation.


It’s at the heart of Christmas, isn’t it? It’s in the packages under the tree, the joy of sharing a meal with those we love, maybe just having an extra day off or a long weekend.


Did you realize that it was at the heart of that first Christmas so long ago? The people had waited thousands of years for the Messiah to be born. There had been countless prophecies. Every generation no doubt wondered if the Messiah would come during their lifetime. I’m sure every woman wondered if she would be the one to bear the Messiah. Yet the years passed and nothing changed.


Until one year, when I’m sure all of heaven watched with anticipation as Jesus, God in the flesh, was born as a helpless baby to a poor couple in a dingy stable surrounded by unaware animals.


Society’s outcasts were among the first visitors. Not kings, or the rich, or the religious, but poor shepherds. Men who lived outside of society and were probably smelly and dirty from days spent surrounded by sheep. They hadn’t been anticipating their role in the Messiah’s arrival, yet they are discussed every Christmas.


This Christmas, as we reflect on a year filled with countless lives lost, social unrest, political instability, economic uncertainty, and a forced “new normal” as we deal with the pandemic, you might not be feeling anticipation.

Maybe your Christmas isn’t going to look anything like it usually does. Maybe financial troubles have forced you to scale back on gift giving. Maybe you aren’t going to be able to gather with family and friends as you normally would.


Even if this Christmas isn’t what you’d hoped it would be, there is something we can all anticipate – the fact that Jesus will come again. Maybe it will be in our generation, maybe not. All we know is that it will happen someday. So as you think about the anticipation of that first Christmas, look ahead to the day when Jesus will come again, not as a helpless baby but as a mighty and righteous King.

Source of Hope

This is quite a week, isn’t it? If you’re like me, you’re already on the countdown to the end of the political ads.


There are a lot of emotions surrounding the elections. People tie their hopes and dreams to the candidate of their choice. When the results are tallied and the winner is announced, there will be rejoicing and there will be disappointment.

But can I let you in on a secret? You don’t have to fall on either of those sides!


Our confidence is not in the presidential election. Our hope is not found in a flawed human ruler. If the people around us only knew where to find their hope, there would be a lot less anguish, a lot less fear, and a lot less anger and rioting.

Jeremiah 17:7-8 tells us: “But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.”


No matter who wins, whether we are headed into a time of “drought” or a time of plenty, we do not have to fear… for we have God as our confidence. If we are rooted in Him, we will not sway in the wind, no matter how formidable it might be. We will not wither in the heat, no matter how scorching.


We have a choice. Root in God and stand firm. Or root in the world and fall.


Psalm 40:4 – “Oh, the joys of those who trust the Lord, who have no confidence in the proud or in those who worship idols.”

Words of Rich Meaning

Language is a funny thing, isn’t it? Especially English. One word can have so many meanings, and the various meanings can really impact how we read and interpret something.

This is true in a verse that many of us are familiar with – a verse that has taken on special meaning in my life lately as we see all the uncertainty, unrest, and upheaval in the world around us.

Psalm 46:10-11 – “He says, ‘Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.’ The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.”

If you’re like me, you’ve often read the word “still” and thought of the absence of movement. While that certainly is one definition of still, there are a few others that have completely revolutionized the way I view this verse.

Calm. Tranquil. Peaceful. Soothed. Look at the rich layers that are added when you substitute one of those words for still!

Now, I’m not a Hebrew scholar and have no idea what Hebrew word was originally used for this verse, nor do I know the precise meaning that was intended in the original text. Yet, I think we can easily (and safely!) read this verse with one of the above words and still maintain the integrity and idea of the verse.

Certainly, there are times when we should be physically still (absent of movement) before the Lord. Often, this helps us focus on Him better and listen for His voice.

But there are other times when we really need to calm our minds.

God exhorts us to be still, calm, tranquil, peaceful, and soothed. Why? Because He is God! In the midst of a deadly global pandemic, in the midst of increasing racial tensions and civil unrest, in the midst of injustice, in the midst of political drama – He is still God. He is exalted among the nations because He is great. His glory is on display in creation throughout the world. Nothing can thwart His plans or purposes.

In verse 11, we see the psalmist’s response to being still and focusing on God: he recognizes that God is with him, that God alone is His fortress (safety & shelter). In being still, he finds hope and security.

If you’re feeling burdened or anxious today because of all the things going on in the world, know that you aren’t alone. We’ve all been there. But also know that if you will release those worries to God, who is big enough and strong enough to handle situations that you and I can’t touch, you can have peace.

“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in times of trouble.” Psalm 46:1.