DO YOU HEAR WHAT I HEAR?

It’s Christmas time, and like most people, I’ve been reflecting on the birth of Christ. As I look at the nativity sets sprinkled around town, my thoughts go to the girl on the donkey with the round belly.

fc1dc23cda80252b3976a8067df956beCan you picture it? Mary is full-term and ready to deliver. She and Joseph get into town only to find that there are no vacancies. She’s ridden on the back of a donkey for over 90 miles. Her baby is kicking inside her. Contractions have taken her breath a few times. And her water may have broken while Joseph was trying to find a place to stay.

This was probably the most physically and emotionally draining thing she’d ever done in her short life. Son of God or not, Mary was not exempt from labor pains. Mary still had to puuuuush to get the King of Kings into the world. His divinity did nothing to make this delivery any easier than her future deliveries. (And little did Mary know it, but a little boy was going to stop by and play on a drum for the baby; most likely right after she got Jesus to sleep.)

Delivering Immanuel was probably a great relief to this girl.

The night Christ was born, God reached down to relieve the rest of the world as well.

“Let me get that for you,” He said. Although it didn’t come in a thunderous voice from Heaven; it came as a healthy cry Christ would let out as He filled His human lungs with air for the first time. With the birth of Jesus, God offered to relieve all of humanity from the weight of sin and he offered to take the weight of our yoke and bear it Himself in return for His yoke, which is light.

The wait was over. God was with us.

This is the place where I usually stop. The pregnancy is over! God did the miraculous. In a few days, Christmas will be finished and 2018 will come to an end.

But this isn’t the end. It’s the beginning! The beginning of the end.

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Jesus didn’t come to us so our kids could wear sheep and shepherd costumes for Christmas pageants. His birth was the beginning of the endgame in the spiritual battle against Satan.

The baby Mary held in her arms was the revelation of God Himself.

He would be our High Priest, who would sympathize with all the weaknesses of our humanity.

He would be our Intercessor and our Deliverer.

He would be the only perfect sacrifice God could accept.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (John 3:16-17, NIV)

We can’t look upon the baby king without seeing His sacrifice on the cross.

5e70aa695fcff25dbb8ce06c3b6cf1241 John 3:8 tells us, “The one who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.

Satan didn’t underestimate the significance of Christ’s birth. He didn’t see a tiny, vulnerable baby wrapped in swaddling clothes. He saw the fulfillment of countless prophesies. He recognized the divinity of Christ and the fruition of God’s infallible word. Satan and his legion can be regarded in many ways, but they weren’t stupid. They’d had free rein for a long time, but their time was up and they knew better than anyone what came next. Jesus’s first cry that night was a battle cry.

Do you hear what I hear?

And Then What?

A kindergarten teacher was observing her classroom of children while they drew pictures. Occasionally, she would walk around the room to see each child’s work.

“What are you drawing?” she asked one little girl who was working diligently at her desk.

The girl replied, “I’m drawing God.”

The teacher paused and said, “But no one knows what God looks like.”

The little girl replied, “They will in a minute.”

God must think we’re kind of funny when we try to identify Him or his plans. Or figure out what the platypus is.

I remember several years ago that someone contemplated the vastness of the universe. Imagine, they pondered, that we live in a solar system that we barely know anything about. That solar system is part of a galaxy. In fact, it’s one of several galaxies. And the universe is all of the galaxies. So…you’d think that somewhere out – at the end of all of that – is…a wall. Right?

The question, then, is…What’s on the other side of the wall?

The “other side of the wall” is the stuff that I think God is all about. We have those things we can examine and may some day be able to identify, label, and categorize. But what about the stuff on the “other side of the wall”?

People had ideas of what Messiah would sound like, look like, act like.

Do you think they expected their deliverer to be raised in the home of a carpenter – or in the home of a soldier or politician?

Do you think they expected him to “slum it” with lepers, Samaritans and tax collectors – or with society’s elite?

Do you think they expected him to actually encourage his brothers and sisters to walk the extra mile for the army that oppressed them – or to overturn that same government, to begin an insurrection? 

Do you think they expected him to go to his crucifixion without a hearing or a single protest – or to defend himself and finally rise up to make his stand?

Do you think they expected him to come back to life after three days in the grave?

Now, that is the stuff God’s about! That mind-blowing, are-you-serious, how-is-that-even-possible stuff is absolutely what God is all about. 

The Hebrews knew the stories of God’s miracles and deliverance – the exodus from Egypt, the parting of the Red Sea, manna from heaven, Sarah’s conception of Issac, crazy Noah and his ark, David’s unlikely defeat of Goliath. But even then, they were determined to fit God into a man-designed box. Just like we do today, they considered very human, very limited ways that Messiah would – or could – come to them.

But Messiah didn’t come in a box. He came in a womb.

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“Immanuel…God With Us”

Now, that’s outside the box! But outside the box is exactly what we need because we’re not fighting a war that’s “inside the box.” The war is not about the possession of land or resources.

The battle is for our souls, for eternity.

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For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Ephesians 6:12 (NIV)

And the battle?

But as it is written: “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him.” 1 Corinthians 2:9 (NIV)

Like nothing we’ve seen before or can possibly imagine with our five senses and limited imaginations.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, 
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord. 

As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:8-9 (NIV)

But how unbelievable is it that God would come to us as a baby – vulnerable and dependent, yet so very embraceable.

God came down to be embraced. (And if that’s not love, I don’t know what is.)

So what has God got planned for us? When he makes a way where there seems to be no way, what will it look like? If it’s like nothing we’ve seen before, if it’s a new thing, it’s going to make the platypus appear logical and mundane. It will have colors and scents that we can’t imagine because we’ve never seen them or smelled them! It will be the stuff on the other side of the cosmic wall, and it will take our breath away and feel like home at the same time.

And I have a feeling that God is looking forward to seeing the look on our face when we see it.

AND STILL I RISE

Getting up can be a much bigger deal than we think, really. Essentially, the physical act of getting up is a matter of defying gravity, isn’t it? When I think of it that way, it seems like a really big deal! We seldom think of it, though, because we do it all day long – we rise from bed, from a chair, from the floor. Toddlers are forever getting back up!

So when do we become conscious of the mechanics of getting up, of rising?

When it gets hard and takes more strength than we think we have – in the way Andra Day sings about in “I’ll Rise Up.”

Age, long hours and illness can make it a physical challenge to get back up. Anxiety, depression, high expectations, loss, and disappointment can make it an emotional challenge.img_4464

But sometimes there is something especially inspirational and profound in getting back up again. Our lives aren’t always as dramatic as a boxer’s, where a win is dependent upon getting up after being knocked down for the count while “Eye of the Tiger” plays in the background, but rising can be just as challenging and every bit as vital. And equally powerful

Our story may not be as beautifully worded as Maya Angelou’s poem “Still I Rise”, but it’s inspiritational just the same. After all, it’s our story!

As I’ve mentioned before, I belong to two different Facebook groups – one for survivors of aortic dissections, which I joined after surviving my own ascending aortic dissection, and one for survivors of CPTSD/PTSD. I’ve been fascinated by how much they overlap. Those in the group dealing with health issues are also dealing with some serious emotional challenges,  and those in the group dealing with emotional issues are also dealing with their share of health issues. What they seem to share most is a sense being alone and feeling quite weary.

So many members of these two groups feel like no one really “gets” their struggle, and they are aware that their recovery, their moving forward, is in fact an individual effort. Others can sympathize, empathize, encourage and support, but the journey of getting back up is ultimately their own.

Still, I know those feelings aren’t unique to these groups. I don’t think any of us have gotten through life without getting knocked down a time or two. Some of us come from a long line of people who have been knocked down and have fought hard to rise up. Some of us have gone through seasons of challenge in spite of every privilege and benefit the world has afforded us. Difficulty is no respecter of wealth, beauty, education, age, gender or ethnicity.

The apostle Peter knew a bit about difficulties, and yet he passed on this promise:

And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.  1 Peter 5:10-11

How could he be so certain of God’s grace? Because he’d experienced it. Jesus still loved him and called him after Peter denied knowing him. Jesus pulled him from the roaring waves the moment Peter cried out for help.

Peter is telling us that, yes, we will suffer. But! By the grace of God, we can rise up…again and again and again.LBG2015Thrill-of-hope-01.jpg

But even before that, Jesus had been born Emmanuel, God with us. That was God’s descent. And how glorious His rising was! In His descent, the weary – like you and me – were given hope. In his rising, we were redeemed. It is by His grace and the strength it affords us that we can always rise again. God has plans for you, fighter. You may be down, but don’t you dare stay down!

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ALWAYS RISE AGAIN!

just finished reading a great post from Dr. Perry from Make it Ultra about dealing with “Imposter Syndrome”. It takes a good look at the anxiety and insecurity that comes from success and starts with one of my favorite quotes from Maya Angelou, which addresses the fear of being found out as a fraud in spite of success. Actually, I suspect it’s a fear of being found out as a fraud because of success. After all, if you don’t call attention to yourself, you can stay camouflaged in mediocrity for your whole life, right? Which may be a very sound reason for people to not aspire to greatness of any degree. And I believe c0deb00acb17459dbea15fdfec3b07e8that so many people have been afraid to stand in the spotlight because they know that, even if they pull this off this time, they may not be able to replicate it. Can you imagine the pressure of coming up with the manuscript for the second book in the Harry Potter series and how exponentially terrifying it became with each book that came after it? J. K. Rowling had to have been as brave and resilient as she was brilliant to travel that road. And the books and movies were such a success, had such an impact on our culture, that hoping to follow it with anything else could have been paralyzing.

Dr. Perry’s post examined the anxiety of maintaining a self-imposed façade, but what it brought to my mind was the risk successful people always take of failing. Moreover, the conflict I’ve often felt personally between absolutely avoiding failure altogether and reveling in the things I learn from failing. I don’t like to fail because I grew up believing that failure came from mistakes, and mistakes were not what you wanted to make. Mistakes were often followed by punishment, right?

As I grew older, though, I began to learn the value of mistakes. Mistakes show that you’re trying something. More importantly, I believe there is more to be learned from mistakes than from successes. I can’t tell you how many good recipes I’ve made and could never replicate because I couldn’t recall how I got there. Now, if I had a recipe and it turned out badly, there’s a really good chance that not only do I know exactly what I did wrong, I’ll also make sure I never make the same mistake again. The same can be said of almost every learning experience. We might learn the hard way, or we might be fortunate enough to learn from the experience of others, but we learn, adapt and improve, wiser in the end.

e01b1eaed926eedb61c9e8b3fae6a4e8My most memorable experience with this was in the mid-80s when I had to learn the software for four different word processing programs. I shared that story in a previous post, “Failure is not Fatal.” I’d had absolutely no experience with computers and was given no directions for the programs. Everything I learned, I learned from mistakes. I not only knew to not do something, but (more importantly) I learned why I shouldn’t do and what would happen if I did do it. Best of all, actually, was that I learned every mistake that could be made by the people I would be teaching the programs to – and how to fix each one. And they understood that I had already made those same mistakes myself and that there wasn’t a situation that could not be remedied. Then there are the two daughters I’ve parented, my 21-year marriage and every job I’ve ever had. Lots and lots of learning curves and lessons!

I think it’s so important for us to be merciful and gentle with someone when they make mistakes – especially with ourselves. Everyone learns in their own unique way, at their own pace. Mistakes provide valuable information. Mistakes are just a sign that you’re trying something new. And mistakes are (usually) transient. After all, you’ve never heard a toddler announce, “This walking thing just isn’t for me!” because they fell. We’ve all learned how to walk, and some have even become Olympic, record-breaking runners in spite of all the times they fell down when they were learning to walk. Don’t ever be afraid to fall. But more importantly, be sure to always get back up again. Remember, Rocky didn’t win the fight in the self-named movie, but no one questions that he was, absolutely, a winner.

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LETTING GO OF THE LIES

“Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” James 4:7 NIV

This is such a short sentence, and yet it’s so powerful! It’s one of those verses that could be divided and each sentence would work alone. But they work together powerfully!

If you’ve ever felt inherently defective and undeserving of anything good, you’ve missed so much. My prayer for you is that you can move from a position of powerlessness and worthlessness to one of power and worthiness in Christ even if no one else has treated you that way – including yourself. I pray that you will open your heart and hands to what God has to give you.

A good place to start is by submitting to God and resisting the devil. I read this verse on my phone this morning and, for the first time in my Christian life, I read it differently (and I’m kind of excited about it right now because I need this now!). Today is different because I read it as a deserving child of God. I’m learning who my real Father is, and I have to tell you, He’s powerful!

My Father has already won every battle to come. In spite of how scary the devil can make things look, it’s all nothing to God. If you follow the story of Christ, you’ll see that demons fled when He spoke. They knew who He was and they were afraid. They were afraid Christ had come before His appointed time, which tells me they knew their time was limited. Their fear also tells me that they knew they were on the losing team. They were weak and vulnerable and had no choice but to submit to Christ as the son of God!ca320ee80218a2a06ce2f66d5db8dbf3

This is the same devil and demons we deal with today. They’re the ones who whisper to you that no one likes you, that you’re inadequate, that you’re alone. They’re the ones who lie to you!

Now, be honest for a moment. If you had a friend who you knew lied to you, how long would you listen to her and trust her? You’d be foolish to believe what she said. Sure, there might be times she tells you the truth, just to keep you in a relationship. But how long could you tolerate hearing, “Jill doesn’t like you.” or “Jim thinks you’re fat.” or “You’re not good enough.” when you know it’s a lie?

So why do we listen to Satan’s lies? Because they agree with the thoughts you already have? Test them against what your loving, forgiving Father says about you, and you’ll see that they are, indeed, lies. Remember that Satan condemns and God convicts. Condemnation is bad, and you don’t need that. Conviction is good, and you need that.

Submit to God. Read His word and learn how very much he loves you. Realize how wonderful and powerful you are as the child of the One who created the universe and you with the same hands. But you need to submit to God so you have an anchor to hold onto. It’s a bit like playing on the monkey bars; you don’t let go of one bar before you let go of the bar you’re holding.

Then resist the devil and make him flee. The verse doesn’t say, “and hope he’ll leave you alone.” It puts the truth very simply – he will flee. He’ll flee from you just as he fled from Christ and his disciples. Why? Because you are a child of God, and God protects His own. This is where you let go of the other bar.

Trust me, once you’ve got ahold of God, you can let go of the stuff that doesn’t help!

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RISE UP AND STAND FIRM

For a devotional today, I read Psalm 20. It was incredibly encouraging!

Psalm 20:4 says, “May he give you the desire of your heart and make all your plans succeed.”

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I really like that part! Who doesn’t want God to give us the desire of our heart? Who wouldn’t appreciate having all their plans succeed?

But there’s such a temptation to limit God, isn’t there? I look at my present situation and think, “If only God would….” I see my immediate need and pray that God will meet it. But what if meeting my immediate need in the way I think is best isn’t what would glorify God? Then God becomes little more than a Santa Bunny, there to make all our dreams come true and give us a pony if we beg long enough.

First of all, God is so much bigger than we let him be. He is able to do all things and to give us an abundant life. Too often, we settle for a little blessing because we’re in a hurry, when we could have a greater blessing and a genuine heart overhaul if we would only trust and wait on his timing.

The second mistake we make is in expecting his blessing to glorify us rather than Him. We don’t really mean to, but it’s our nature to be self-focused most of the time. God loves us dearly and wants to bless us, but he owes us nothing. The way I see the scripture, he has a victory planned – but for “his anointed” and for His kingdom. I believe all of God’s children have been anointed for something. His anointed have been set apart for a sacred and divine purpose. It is the anointed who will bring glory to the kingdom of God:

Now this I know: The Lord gives victory to his anointed. He answers him from his heavenly sanctuary with the victorious power of his right hand. Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God. They are brought to their knees and fall, but we rise up and stand firm. Lord, give victory to the king! Answer us when we call! (Psalm 20:6-9)

When you are anointed and you go to battle in the name of God, there is nothing and no one who can stand in the way. God has already established His victory. The only question is when and how. And what are we to do as the enemy falls in defeat? Rise up and stand firm!

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What an awesome God we serve when His name is stronger than chariots or horses, whispers or doubts, or whatever weapon the enemy chooses to use against us. We’re not told to put our faith in our checking balance or our relationships. And we’re not told to fidget and worry. We’re told to rise up and stand firm.

I pray that today I can do that. I pray that I can put my worries in God’s hands and let the victory over my circumstances be for God’s glory not mine. And I pray that I can simply rise up and stand firm.

WHEN YOU QUESTION YOUR PARTNER

Remember when you were in school and you had to partner with someone to complete a project, and your partner failed you? Not only did you do most of the research, but you got a bad grade besides because of their lack of participation.

Or as an adult, you were on a workplace committee to work on a project. Most of the members did a fair job of contributing; but there was that one person who not only didn’t do her part, but actually made the outcome of the project worse than if she’d done nothing at all. In the end, your boss didn’t care about how each member performed individually; they only wanted results, and the results were dismal.

Sometimes, you think, it would have been easier to have done it all yourself. You know what they say, “If you want something done right, do it yourself.” That would be the easiest way to handle things, wouldn’t it? But that’s the world’s answer to everything. The world will tell you to “look out for yourself because no one’s going to help you, baby. You’re in this alone.”

Some Christians would go so far as to say the temptation to not rely on anyone else is from Satan because division has always been his goal. And there’s truth in that, too. Satan will wait until you’re weak to suggest that no one – not even God – will be there to help you.

But what if it’s not a school partner or a coworker who isn’t pulling their weight, but your spouse – the one you believe God set aside just for you? Robin Williams once said, “I used to think that the worst thing in life was to end up alone. It’s not. The worst thing in life is to end up with people who make you feel alone.”

For some, this isn’t a theological contemplation for meditation; this is a question they need an answer to because they feel very alone right now. And quite scared.

That’s the root of it all right there, isn’t it? Fear. God’s Word reminds us again and again to not fear, do not be afraid or dismayed. As a child of God, our heavenly Father promises that he hears our cries and knows our hearts. He is our Abba Father, our provider. Will he come through when no one else does? Will he show up when the one he chose as your partner fails you and leaves you afraid that he or she won’t do their part to provide for the family?

Satan whispers, “See? I told you you were alone.” He is constantly on the move to see what he can destroy, and if your relationship looks wounded and helpless, you can be certain he’ll attack it. All he needs is an opening, one small opportunity. He only needs us to be weak. Weakened by fear, disillusionment, anxiety, unfulfilled promises, unspoken assurances.

I believe there are warriors out there who are battle-weary and need encouragement. I don’t feel it’s enough to simply say, “God says that you shouldn’t be afraid.” He has said that, several times in fact; but I think it’s naïve to think those who need an encouraging word right now will find it encouraging enough. For some, it would be like slapping a smiley face sticker on your problem and calling it first aid. Some of God’s children have a history of disappointments that have left them feeling hopeless and helpless when things get scary. They expect nothing more more than self-preservation to be their security.

God gave you emotions, and fear was one of them. But it’s not his plan for you to live defeated when you have been designed for battle. And if the best way for Satan to gain a foothold in your life – in your marriage – is for you to be weak, then you need to be strong. Tou can be afraid if you choose, but do it afraid!

God knows you can’t do it alone. He never intended for you to fight in your own power and has made it clear that apart from him, we can do nothing. So pray for the peace, confidence, discernment and courage you need. Then put on the Armor of God and prepare for battle, knowing this:

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“Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.  Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.  For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.  Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.  Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.  In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.  Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” (Ephesians 6:10 – 17). Then stand firm.

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He is God. He will not fail you!