Writer’s Desk

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.

Transplanted by the Master Gardener

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I love hibiscus flowers. They are huge, vibrant, and beautiful! This particular one, however, is not your average hibiscus. What you can’t tell from this picture is that this plant stands over 6 feet tall!
 
This plant has a unique story. It shouldn’t be here. It was destined for destruction.
 
I bought it 2 years ago from a non-profit organization. This non-profit goes to properties that are about to be converted for commercial purposes and rescues native plants growing there, then resells them – giving them a 2nd chance at life.
 
When I bought this plant, it was only a few inches tall. I brought it inside during the winter and put it outside when the weather heated back up. It took this plant over a year to produce a single bloom, two years to really thrive. Now? It’s a massive, healthy plant that stretches above the roofline!
 
The Lord showed me that this plant’s life mirrors our own. We were all destined for destruction. We were planted in condemned ground, thinking we were fine… even as the bulldozer loomed behind us. Until Jesus, the master gardener, uprooted us from our dangerous position and placed us in His garden.
 
Sometimes, it feels unpleasant. Sometimes we’re stuck in a pot that feels too small, in soil that feels too dry or too moist, in wind that feels too strong. Yet the gardener knows what we need and His care is perfect.
 
Like the hibiscus, it can take time for us to begin to grow and more time for us to thrive. So if you feel like a weak little sprout, be encouraged by my hibiscus. If you let Jesus work, He will grow you into a beautiful, productive plant.

Expecting a Response

Do you ever feel like God doesn’t hear your prayers? If we’re honest, I think most of us have at some time in our lives.
 
My head knows He hears, because He promises that He does (Psalm 34:17, 116:1, Proverbs 15:29). But there are days when my heart struggles to believe.
 
That’s why I found the book of Habakkuk so encouraging! It’s a short book, only 3 chapters, but it’s all about a conversation between Habakkuk and God.
 
Verse 2:1 really stood out – and convicted – me. “I will climb up to my watchtower and stand at my guard post. There I will wait to see what the Lord says and how He will answer my complaint.”
 
Habakkuk had poured his heart out to God, complaining about injustice and concerned about the threats his nation was facing. Then, after his prayer, we see his actions. He doesn’t shrug his shoulders and hope that something will happen. He doesn’t go off and try to fix the problems himself. He doesn’t throw his hands in the air and grumble about time wasted in prayer.
 
Not even close. He confidently waited for God to respond.
 
See, Habakkuk knew God would reply. It wasn’t a question in his mind. He climbed up on a watchtower – a place where lookouts were stationed to watch for incoming messengers or invading armies – and watched for God’s response.
 
In addition, he stood guard at his post. He didn’t abandon the previous instructions the Lord had given him, nor did he ignore the calling placed upon his life. Yet he went about his activities with an awareness and expectation that God would respond.
 
I don’t know about you, but too often I pray for something, then quickly move on with little expectation that God’s going to reply. Do I believe He hears my prayer? Absolutely. But do I live with the expectation that a response will come in His perfect timing? Not often.
 
God’s answer may not always be what we want to hear, which may make us miss His response. What if we, like Habakkuk, lived our lives expecting God to show up? What if we lived with the knowledge that He hears us, that He cares, and that He will respond when we pray?

Equipped and Armed

Conflict. Most of us avoid it when we can.

There are times when it is unavoidable, when you are attacked, seemingly without provocation. There are other times when you might have to do the attacking, perhaps to right a wrong.

How do you deal with the people with whom you have conflict? How do you deal with people who treat you unfairly, who are mean for no reason, who take away your rights or force you to do what you don’t want to do?

If we’re honest, most of us would consider those people our enemies. We might think of ways to get even, or try to figure out how we can “hit them where it hurts.”

Yet Ephesians 6:12 proposes a different outlook: “For we are not fighting against flesh and blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.”

If we are to take God’s word as completely true – and I sincerely hope that you do – then this verse makes it clear that people are not our enemies! Our real enemies are unseen, spiritual forces at work in the world around us. Those people, whom we are viewing as our enemies, are really just being influenced and used by the spiritual forces that seek our destruction.

So when you’re attacked by someone, when someone hurts you, just remember that he or she is not the real enemy. We’re not called to hate them, but to love and pray for them (Luke 6:27.)

That is so hard to do! Ephesians 6:10b-11 gives some help with this: “Be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all the strategies of the devil.” The verses that follow give us an idea of what that armor looks like: truth, righteousness, peace, faith, the Bible, and prayer.

A SWAT team would never think of going into action without fully arming themselves with weapons, body armor, and shields, yet as believers, we so often go through life unequipped and unarmed. We’re fighting supernatural forces, something much stronger than the flesh and blood criminals that a SWAT team faces, and we show up to battle armed with sticks and wearing shorts and flip-flops.

It’s time to gear up! Arm yourself with the weapons the Lord provides, lean on His great strength, follow Him as the ultimate spiritual SWAT commander, and fight the real enemy – the spiritual forces – while revealing Him to the people around you.

 

 

 

 

 

Time In Between

This is an Easter like no other, isn’t it?

Most churches will not be holding in-person celebrations – nor should they, in my opinion. COVID-19 has changed the face of Easter this year, as we all wait for the crisis to pass.

During this time, there’s a lot of fear. A lot of hopelessness. A lot of uncertainty. People are fighting for their lives, many have lost loved ones, others are losing their jobs, and futures are not what they once appeared to be.

All this reminded me of the first “Good” Friday almost 2,000 years ago, a day that didn’t feel so good to the people who knew Jesus.

That weekend, things looked at their darkest. There was fear. Hopelessness. Uncertainty. They’d lost someone they loved. They’d lost someone who they’d hoped would set them free. The future no longer looked as they’d imagined it should.

Sound familiar?

Yet just a few days later, all of that would be turned upside down. What they had viewed as the darkest of days became a day we now call good.

You see, God had a plan. Did it look anything like the plans the disciples had? Did they see the purpose in that plan as Jesus was bleeding on the cross? As His body was placed in a tomb?

No, they couldn’t see any of that. But they would. At just the right time, God would open their eyes and show them the glory of His plan.

I feel like we’re in an extended “Saturday”, hovering between the horrible hopelessness of shattered dreams and the glorious revelation of God’s goodness. So if you’re feeling overwhelmed, burdened, hopeless, and afraid – like much of the world is right now, remember that the disciples felt exactly the same on a Saturday many, many years ago.

Just as God’s good plan was revealed on Resurrection morning, we can trust that His good plan will be revealed at just the right time now. In the meantime, trust God. Press into Jesus. And let the peace of God so permeate your life that those who need hope will see the hope that only Jesus can give.