5 Lessons from “The Land Between” (Pt. 1)

I am in the land of Between – between a place and position that I have known for the last 22 years, and moving forward into a new place and position for this next season. I am spending a lot of time on reflection and personal evaluation. While I am thankful for the way God uses me (and has used me), there are certainly many areas of weakness and flaws that I deal with. I am asking the Lord to help me learn some lessons from the past in order to go forward in a healthier, Christ-honoring, and anointed way of life and ministry. So, there are probably more lessons to come in this series, but here at least 5 Lessons from “The Land Between.”

Or Lessons I am still trying to learn but in no way have mastered!!!

  1. God’s voice is greater than our plans! Pretty simple right, and fairly obvious. One word from God is worth far more than thousands of my own thoughts and ideas, or words from others. Obviously, God can speak in my thoughts and through others, but that is not always true. I am a strategic activator (2 of my strengths). These strengths have served me well but are often weaknesses as well as they cause me to want to jump too quickly. Many people risk processing for too long and missing God, falling behind the Lord. Others like me often get out in front of God. Partial revelation is not full revelation. I know the Lord is teaching me and calling me to learn to wait upon Him, to truly hear His voice and do what the Father is doing. I must discern better between good ideas and God ideas. This means I must die a little bit (or a lot) to the satisfaction of quick short term wins, giving into the pressure of other voices, and becoming enamored with my own ideas. I am convinced the church needs to hear from the Lord more than ever. Hearing God’s voice means we set aside time for prayer – seeking, waiting, listening, discerning and confirming His course within community (especially when seeking for the body of Christ.) I want God’s voice and direction over everything else. I must learn to truly discover the posture of listening prayer.
  2. Nothing is more important than the Lord’s Presence! Nothing!! Programs, services, and activities have their place. Good strategy is needed and necessary. Above all though, we need to treasure the Lord’s Presence. God is looking for a people that treasure Him, not just what He does. We ought too long to meet with God as a people, to encounter God in real ways. I have always valued the Presence of the Lord, but going forward I want this to be my ultimate commitment. So I say it again, nothing is more important than the Presence of the Lord.
  3. I cannot avoid the needed, and often hard conversations. I too often delayed or ducked the hard conversations – whether I needed it or someone else. While this created peace for the moment, it usually created chaos and mistrust in the end. Christians are often too nice. We can be so nice that we will not be candid. I want to become more loving than ever before but also be willing to be more candid than ever before. We do not grow if we are never challenged by others. I cannot help people grow if they are never challenged on their thoughts or unhelpful behavior. I am asking grace from the Lord to make me a much better steward of the ministry and people I am called to lead and serve. I want to fear nothing but God while walking in love and humility. And I want to be willing to let others say what needs to be said, and I want to be willing to say what needs to be said for the best of His people and His glory. God give us grace in learning to speak well with one another, and help us not build false harmony but to speak deeply and health-fully to one another. Your people are often not good at this, so help us Lord Jesus!!!

Okay, that’s enough for this post. I will continue this post with more to come!!

Everything has Changed in a Hurry!

What happened? What am I doing in NW Georgia? How did I get here? These are a few questions that have run through my mind in the last month.

The sunset over NW Georgia my first night in our new home area of Dalton – Calhoun, GA.
I was filled with peace and confirmation as I gazed at the beauty of God’s creation.

Amber and I are truly at total peace that God has led us on this new journey, but we have had moments of realizing just how big this transition is after 23 years of life in Glynn County, and 22 years as the Pastor of Community Church (www.wearecommunity.church). Our lives have been completely changed from living in a little town on the coast to a little town in the mountains. We have had moments of culture shock, unbelief, and just pinching ourselves. Currently we have no house and most of our possessions are in several storage units split between Calhoun and Dalton, GA. We plan on building in the long run, but will be renting an apartment near Dalton State college if they can ever get the CO from the County Gov. So we are homeless pilgrims on a new journey – living in her parent’s two bedroom house in Calhoun. I love her parents Mike and Brenda, but I thank God they have actually been in St. Simons for this whole month on vacation. I like my alone time as an introvert and not sure I could live in a two bed room with my in-laws for weeks on end. In fairness to them, I do not think they want to do that with me either. We love each other. Let’s keep it that way and not try to live on top of each other for a month or two ūüėä. Know what I mean? In the meantime, I have had time to begin to reconnect with some old friends and acquaintances from Dalton.

Why did you leave SSI? What would make you leave a rather successful ministry at the beach to lead a smaller church in a small NW Georgia? These are questions we have faced hundreds of times. It was not an easy decision to let go. We struggled and wrestled alot with God and each other. Once we made the decision though, there was lots of peace. No regrets, no fear, and no looking back. I know God has called us. We were at Community Church for 22 years. The Lord was incredibly gracious and kind during our ministry on SSI and in Bwk. We saw the Lord do more than we could ask or imagine. We saw lives changed, many salvation and baptisms. I never dreamed we would be able to impact our community in the ways that we did. I am so thankful for the thumb-print the Lord gave us in the Glynn County-Golden Isles Community. I am thankful for the strong future CC will have being led by many close friends who are talented and gifted. I know. I had the opportunity to serve with them and lead our team for many years.

After 22 years though, my season of leadership there had come to an end. Two years ago, Amber and I became empty nesters at age 50. We wondered if we would stay put and end our ministry there or uproot and start something else/something new. It was hard to see myself leaving, but it was also hard to see myself staying until I was 65+. We knew if we going to make a move, it would most likely be sooner than later. I always felt like I had one good run still left in me. So we are running in a new direction.

I feel I took Community Church about as far as I knew how to take it. Yes, I still had thoughts and ideas but I just felt a little stuck, like I was walking around in the same circles. God used us still. He was still using me in St. Simons and Brunswick (in spite of myself often), but I also had levels of frustrations that I couldn’t overcome. It was becoming harder to gain traction and feel absolutely clear for the church and our team. That couldn’t stay like that. It was becoming a sign that I no longer had the grace of God to stay and lead in this place that I love with many people that I dearly love. I sought to keep my heart in the right place, but I was no longer in the right place. That was God’s call – and not mine.

COVID was also a really hard season for pastors. I know many in ministry felt they could not make a right decision. COVID protocols, shut-downs, masks/no masks, social unrest and political divisions were just a few land mines we all sought to navigate. It seemed nobody could agree with constant differences of opinions – very strong opinions. It was one of the most toxic seasons of church history I think I have ever witnessed (across the entire body of Christ). So many pastors have felt beat up, ghosted by 50% off their people, and worn out from pivoting their course of action and ministry. Through all of this, many pastors have decided to leave ministry all together., or many have shifted to new roles and new churches. They were done! I can relate to those thoughts and feelings, just being over it I can remember being so tired that I didn’t know what to think or do next. Yes, I have had wounds and hurts from this season. I found myself becoming a victim. God did use some of that to get my attention, but there was “no thing” or “no one thing” that caused me to make a change. I did not leave because of pressure from others, or intimidation or fear. Amber and I were fully ready to stay for the long haul on the other side of COVID when we felt the Lord change our direction.

COVID was hard, but we did see God greatly at work. He used our church throughout Glynn County and around the southeast, and beyond – even reaching others nations. I held hundreds of online prayer meetings attended by many. So while I felt more criticized than ever before, I also felt more confirmed in my calling. And I made a decision to take care of my heart late in the fall. This involved a lot of introspection, self-examination, deep prayer and repentance, going to counseling (yes I have a counselor), and opening up to some others. I had isolated a bit, and I had to come back out of the shadows of retreat, and embrace a path of healing and wholeness. I am not alway there yet. But I am committed to God’s plan to change me. My heart is soft again. I am finding rest. I am becoming more in tune with my fatal flaws, and more dependent upon the Spirit. I love Jesus fully, and I want what He wants.

And then God’s call came in a way that I was not expecting. 29 years ago, in June of ’92, I became the youth pastor at Evangelical Methodist Church (EMC). These people loved Amber and me so well. They helped send us to seminary at Asbury Theological Seminary (www.ats.com) to get my degree. We left seminary to go back to my home on SSI to begin a new journey of ministry that led to Community Church. I am so grateful.

And now at age 52, a new journey. Another full circle story of coming back to a place where we first started. EMC is now called Church on the Hill (COTH)- a church with a long and strong history in Dalton. They have passed through some rough times over recent years, and have lost some of their members. Yet there is a strong remnant with a love for Jesus, for Dalton, for others, and for Amber and me. Several of them have told us that they can’t believe we would come to this church. Amber and I feel the call to Dalton was needed as much for us than as for them. We are the ones blessed to be able to ultimately join them in what God has been doing in their hearts. We were in need of change, fresh challenge, fresh perspective, and breaking out of our comfort zone. We are in need of these people even more than they need us.

There are many reasons it was time for a change. I think I had accomplished all that I could in St. Simons and Glynn. The creativity was not quite there. I kept seeking for the fire but it was not consistent. After 22 years, I felt CC needed a new shepherd with a new voice to lead them. I just think God’s grace was longer upon me for that position. The Lord had someone better in mind to lead there. As much as I loved that church and the people, I was no longer the right one to lead them.

So I interviewed with COTH over this last year. Something stirred within me during our conversations. For many it has not seemed logical that I would leave St. Simons and Community Church. Yes it has been quite a switch, but God never looks with human logic. I had a number of people telling me years ago that I was making a mistake becoming the pastor at CC. I have eyes of faith to see this next venture through the lens of my Heavenly Father. It excites me. It humbles me. It stirs me in new and fresh ways.

The people are hungry and thirsty for a move of God. They love us already. We knew a number of them previously. Their constant love through these years for us has been amazing. They are willing to pray with me – I mean really pray – like crying out and calling out to God in desperation kinda prayer. There is something about the DNA of this church that has always resonated with me. And just I am ready to continue to grow and be stretched, so are they. The Lord seems to have put us together.

Riding around Dalton my first night here back on April 30, I had the sense that I was home – that Jesus had invited Amber and me to be a part of His work here in NW, GA. I had the sense and still do that I will get to be a part of something very unique, special and Spirit inspired here at COTH. I declare that completely BY FAITH, and not because I think I can make it happen. If God doesn’t show up, we are dead in the water. I do not start full time until June 27th. Until then, Amber and I are travelling, resting, and getting ready. It has been sweet. I have preached a couple of times though already at Church on the Hill (COTH). Church on the Hill is a sweet spirit filled church with people who want spiritual renewal and revival. They love to worship and are hungry for the Word. The vision is to exalt Jesus Christ over the Dalton area, and our mandate is clear: (1) Worship, (2) Prayer, (3) Healing, (4) Renewal, (5) Witness. When I read these the first time, it completely resonated with my heart. I am willing to lay down my life for the next several years to pursue these callings with my new church family. I do not fully start my job until July 1, but I have already had moments where the Holy Spirit has shown up in a powerful way at “The Hill.” I have a real sense of expectation for the Lord to move in power for the sake of His glory.

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The vision is to exalt Jesus Christ over the Dalton area, and our mandate is clear: (1) Worship, (2) Prayer, (3) Healing, (4) Renewal, (5) Witness.

For now, I am right where I am supposed to be. I am still getting used to the idea of having moved from St. Simons, and living in Dalton. But I wake up with joy and a new sense of purpose. I was truly blessed to have served CC for 22 years. God used it all, and yet I have a sense that all that I have learned will actually allow me to serve more deeply, lovingly and humbly in the future. Jesus has brought me here.

Some people have tried to check my sanity for moving from beautiful St. Simons and the ministry of Community Church to NW GA and a church that was a good bit smaller in size. Do not worry about me – for some people have. I am just fine. I am more than fine. Yes, I miss my home, my old church, and the many friends. And yet I would have been out of God’s will to stay. The safest place on earth for me is right in the middle of God’s will. The most fulfilling place for me is in the middle of God’s will. God has called me to love Him above all else and to serve him whole-heartedly and it just happens to be that God knows I can do that best in Dalton, GA. I submit gladly to His plan, and I cannot wait to see how it all unfolds.

I look forward to sharing more – maybe a couple of times a week – as I discover all the Lord has for me and the people of COTH! My expectations: Revival – a true move of the Spirit that touches many. I do not say this because of me but truly because of the God that I serve and what I sense He is saying and doing in and around us. Get ready Dalton friends. It is time to get right with God. Let the winds blow, and let the Fire Fall. Come Holy Spirit. Peace!

Light it Up

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I have always loved Christmas lights. Just as the weather starts to get colder, and the days are shorter they appear. Usually around Thanksgiving, lights start to pop up all over town – along the main streets, in storefronts, and businesses – and in our homes. Some love multi-colored lights, while others fancy the classic white. Regardless, Christmas lights up our towns and homes in the darkness of December.

The lights help point out one of the great themes of the true Christmas season: Jesus Christ, the light of the world, has come to pierce the darkness of our world with the light and hope of the Gospel.

In his Gospel, the beloved disciple John said, “In him (Jesus) was life,¬†and that life was the light¬†of all mankind.¬†The light shines in the darkness,¬†and the darkness has not overcome¬†it… The true light¬†that gives light to everyone¬†was coming into the world.¬†(John 1:9)

In the book of Genesis, we see that at the beginning of creation, the earth was formless and void, darkness was over the surface of the deep and the Spirit hovered over the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light (Genesis 1:3). God spoke and the light was formed. God spoke and darkness was dispelled! God spoke and creation was illuminated so we could now see. Light had penetrated the darkness, and the darkness could not overcome it.

The New Testament acknowledges that there is darkness in the world. The darkness is spiritual, and darkness is used as a word picture to describe how humanity is blind to truth and to God, lost with no clue how to return home, and lured into the darkness of sin. Humanity is stuck in the dark with no hope or sense of direction.

Our world is a place full of darkness…

  • A darkness that clouds our vision.
  • A darkness that creates spiritual blindness.
  • A darkness that causes spiritual bondage to sin.
  • A darkness that keeps us wandering and lost, separated from God!

Then Jesus Christ came into the world. John said, “In Him was life, and that life was the light of men. (John 1:4). .. The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world” (John 1:9).

John has described the season and time for a new work of creation. This time, it was the hearts of humanity that were formless and void, with darkness over the surface of our lives. When God sent Jesus into the world, it was as if He said, “Let there be light!” The apostle Paul said, “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’¬†made his light shine in our hearts¬†to give us the light of the knowledge of God‚Äôs glory displayed in the face of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:6). Through Christ, God is breaking into the darkness of our hearts and sin with his life giving grace and power. Jesus brings life into that which is dead, fills that which is formless and void, and illuminates the eyes of our heart to the hope of Jesus Christ.

The light of Christ brings:

  • Vision to move forward.
  • Eyes opened to our need.
  • Revelation to God’s glory.
  • Illumination to Christ’s sufficiency.
  • Clarity to our pathway.

Jesus is the true light that gives light to everyone! Without Him, we are blind. Without him, we are lost. Without him, we are stumbling in darkness.

2020 has had more than enough darkness. We have all felt at some point we are stumbling in the darkness, groping for hope and help. We have needed light.

We have a LIGHT! He is the light.

And He is still with us.

COVID has tried to quench the light. Politics have tried to extinguish the light. Satan continually tries to put out our light.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

Christ is a reminder that no matter how dim this world may become, the light of Christ will always break forth into the darkness. Nothing will stop the light of Christ. Let there be light!

Prayer:

Father of lights, thank you that every good and perfect gift comes from above. Thank you for the light of Jesus breaking into the darkness of my world. Thank you that though I once was lost, and now I am found. I was blind but now I see. Open the eyes of my heart to see you more clearly that I may follow your more nearly. Let there be light in my life. Let there be light in my family and friends. Let the light of Jesus Christ shine. Amen.

More than a Stocking Stuffer!

Have you fully embraced the child from Bethlehem? Have you fully embraced the Lord Jesus? Christmas is such a wonderful and amazing time of year in so many ways, and for so many reasons.

Those who most fully embrace Christmas, however have fully embraced what most humans often try to deny. The gift of Jesus is not a last minute gift idea, or your average stocking stuffer mixed in among other items. The gift of Jesus is the one gift we simply cannot live without. In the O Come Let Us Adore Him devo from Paul David Tripp, he says on December 20 meditation, “Because sin has tragically infected all of us, the presence, work and grace of that baby in the manger is what we all need.”

Our natural reaction is most often the attempt to defend ourselves and our actions in pride. We do not easily humble ourselves and admit, “I am a sinful mess, and my heart is far more devious than I had ever imagined.” Instead we play along with the idea that we are wiser, stronger, and more righteous and noble than we truly are.

Have you ever been confronted over your sin, or a certain behavior (how you treated or reacted to a loved one?)? It is easy to let our little lawyer come out and give every reason and excuse we were justified in our behavior. Have you ever said, “You are right. I am so sorry for my unloving and ungodly response. Truthfully, I have sin in my heart that causes me to lash out in such wicked ways, and I am capable of far worse. I truly need forgiveness and God’s grace to help and heal me!”

Tripp says, “So what we all need to confess is that denying our need for grace is more natural for us than confessing our need for grace.” Go back and read that again. That sentence describes the crux of our problem as humans – strong willed, independent, prideful, and deeply selfish in ways that keep us self-dependent instead of fully relying on God’s mercy and grace.

“So what we all need to confess is that denying our need for grace is more natural for us than confessing our need for grace.”

Paul David Tripp, O Come Let Us Adore Him

Four points Tripp points out that reveal our condition:

  • We tend to minimize, rationalize, and often excuse our sin. We easily convince ourselves that it is not that bad. After all, none of us perfect, right? Yes, that is right, but it is far deeper than not being perfect. We are soul sick with the disease of sin.
  • We tend to doubt the wisdom of God’s Word and Law. We all mount arguments as to why certain commands of scripture are not relevant for us. “After all, I love this person so our sexual relationship outside of marriage is a good and blessed thing.” “I had every right to be angry and say those things to him due to his neglect of me.” “She deserved it! I do not feel bad because she had it coming.” We make excuses for why our “wisdom” is better than God’s and why we did not obey his word.
  • We tend to be more concerned with the sins and faults of others more than our own. It is so much easier to see the sin of another person rather than our own. We can detect their pride, selfishness, bitterness, materialism and greed. And the whole time, we are blind to some of these same issues in our lives. Don’t we? Isn’t amazing at how skilled we can be at this at times?
  • We tend to deny what is in our hearts. We can admit that have “sins” that we sometimes commit, but it is another issue to admit that we have a spiritual heart disease that is killing us. In the physical and natural realm, it is one thing to admit that I am dealing with some fatigue, lethargy and a low grade temperature for days on end. We can acknowledge and treat the symptoms. It is quite different to admit that my “symptoms” are the result of an aggressive cancerous tumor that is living and active inside of me. When I get to this point, I am less concerned with these symptoms and want to discover how to cut out the cancer. Let’s get to the source. Sins are acts that we commit because of the spiritual cancer of SIN dwelling in me. I have a fatal “heart disease” that is wreaking havoc in my life – “The heart is wicked and deceitful above all else, who can know it” (Jeremiah 17:9).

Merry Christmas my friend! You are far worse and more sinful than you have ever imagined. You are not as good as you think you are. You are welcome! For if we can see the depth our sin, we can fully discover the riches of his mercy and grace. Only when our sin breaks our hearts can the gift of Jesus fully revive and excite our hearts. Only when we see how sick we are can Christmas offer us the hope of healing and the cure for our sinful condition. o wretched man that I am, but thanks be to God for the gift and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Oh how I need Him, and how I love Him!

Prayer:

Father, I love a good gift but rarely have I considered how much I deeply need the gift of salvation in and through Jesus Christ. I want to fully embrace the grace of the Lord Jesus. I confess that I easily deny my need for grace instead of confessing my need for grace. Father, I want to stop blaming others and seeing their faults instead of dealing with my own heart. I want to stop making excuses and minimizing my sin. I want to reject my “foolish wisdom” that allows me to think that I am exempt from portions of your Word and commandments. Lord, I do not want to deny what is in my heart. I am capable of far worse than I want to admit. God, I am sick with sin corrupted by a vile heart disease that I cannot contain. There is a spiritual cancer that will keep slowly spread unless you intervene.

Father, I entrust myself to you today – the Great Physician. I need your Healing power of forgiveness and grace. I need heart surgery, and I ask you to open up my chest and take out the heart of stone that is hard, dull and dead… I want a new heart. I need a new heart. I ask you to give me a heart of flesh as you promised in Ezekiel – a heart that is alive, tender, sensitive to the Spirit and needs of others. I need healing to contain the cancerous growth and spread of sin in my life. Cut it out Lord. Deal with the root of sin that causes me to live selfish and self centered while putting you off to the side.

I am thankful that Christmas is a gift that meets me in my need. Lord Jesus, thank you for salvation, for forgiveness, for mercy and grace. Lord thank you for dealing with the root of my sin. I ask you to be Lord and ruler of me that I might no longer be ruled by the Sin within me. You Jesus bring my heart to life. You bring me new life, hope, and healing from the bondage of the curse. In seeing my brokeness of heart, I am more excited than ever for you revive my heart. Come Holy Spirit!!!! in Jesus name. Amen!

Messages from the Manger

This picture is called “Heaven’s loss” by Ron Dicanni.

I love the manger! I have a fondness for nativity scenes that often brings out a subtle sense of worship, warmth, peace, awe, and gratitude. As a young boy, I had a basic, sentimental attachment to the manger. I loved to hide the baby Jesus until the 24th, when he could make his arrival in time for Christmas day. I knew the open space in our incomplete Nativity represented a hope that I did not fully understand as I tucked baby Jesus and his manger away in a drawer. I sensed anticipation as Christmas Eve and Day would approach knowing it would be time for baby Jesus to emerge. Mary and Joseph, the shepherds, wise men, animals, and even the angel were all in place but the child was the guest of honor. He was the One who would steal the show.

Even as I remember those days fondly, I truthfully lacked a depth to my knowledge and understanding of the message of the manger. I loved our little manger scene, and truly knew there was something special about it’s story. It would be years before I discovered a deeply personal relationship with Jesus and began to hear more clearly God’s voice speaking to me from the manger. If you have ears to hear, what is that the manger tells us? What message can be heard in the story of the Nativity?

Mary and Joseph, the shepherds, wise men, animals, and even the angel were all in place but the child was the guest of honor. He was the One who would steal the show.

Let me share 3 declarations of God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ that are proclaimed in the birth of Jesus Christ. May these messages from the manger literally “cry” to your heart so that you are never the same again.

  1. I love you fully and I want you to know me in a real and personal way! God didn’t just give us a book, prophets, ideologies, theologies, and creeds. Ultimately He gave us Himself. God came to the earth in the form of a man. John wrote, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). The apostle Paul said that Jesus is “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15). In absolute selfless love, the Son of God entered human history, becoming a part of the human story so He could eventually enter and alter each one of our stories. The doctrine of the Incarnation tells us that Heaven made the most unlikely move when the Eternal Son of God laid aside the robe of his glory, and adorned himself with human flesh. No religion comes close to the beauty of Jesus. The Christian faith stands out like a Rolls Royce on a highway full of tricycles. No other faith is so personal. None are so real. Jesus brings God up close and personal. You can wrap your arms around Him, so that God can wrap His loving arms around you. The manger reveals that God became a person, and therefore it is God’s personal invitation for you to know Him in a personal way. Jesus wants you to know that He loves, and He wants a relationship with you. He came all the way from heaven to earth to make that possible. For God so loved the world that He gave his only Son…
  2. I am more than willing to forgive you! Forgiveness is fully available and possible. We must never forget that the manger was a rescue mission. We were lost in our sin and without hope, separated from God, under the shadow of judgment. Isaiah wrote, “We all like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way…” (Isaiah 53:6) In the book of Romans, the apostle Paul is straight forward regarding the human condition: “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), and “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). The sin and rebellion of humanity to the rule of God was an act of betrayal, mutiny against our Creator. We deserve absolutely nothing from God, and God owes nothing other than judgment. It makes the manger all the more remarkable. The Son of God was not born of a virgin so he could come to earth and settle the score. Jesus came so He could cancel the debt of our sin by taking our sin upon Himself. Jesus became sin in our place. While we certainly have gone astray like lost sheep, “the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6). The angel told Joseph that the child Mary was carrying was truly from God. He told Joseph that he “will be called Jesus for He will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:22-23). The name Jesus literally means “One who saves.” That is who He is, and that is what He does. He is a wonderful Savior, for He is the only one who can save us and forgive us from all of our sin. The manger would always lead to the cross. That is why He came, and this is why we can know that our God is more than willing to forgive.
  3. I want you to live with me forever in heaven. The garden of Eden was home for Adam and Eve. Eden means “delight” or “paradise”. It was a place where they dwelt with God, and God walked beside them. Eden was peaceful without conflict, safe and without danger, holy and without sin, full of life and without death, full of light and without darkness, and full of purpose and meaning without chaos, confusion, and uncertainty. Due to sin, humanity forfeited their home in the presence of God, and they were escorted into the exile of a world corrupted and broken by sin. While we have so many blessings and good things to enjoy on the earth, this world has proven to be a hostile environment. People hurt one another, become addicted to substances, get sick and die., etc. Abuse, divorce, crime, murder, and betrayal all happen frequently and continually (along with so much more suffering and sin). Jesus came to lead us back home. He invites us to know Him, but also gives is an invitation to return to a place once again that is absent of everything that does not align with God’s best. Jesus said, “I am going to prepare a place for you” (John 14:1-3). He promised that there was plenty of room in His Father’s house. He said He would return for us so that we could be with him where He is. Jesus came from heaven to earth so that we could one day leave the earth and return to heaven. The manger reminds us that this world is not our true home. We were made for something better. In his book Heaven, author Randy Alcorn stated, ‚ÄúThe best of life on Earth is a glimpse of Heaven; the worst of life is a glimpse of Hell. For Christians, this present life is the closest they will come to Hell. For unbelievers, it is the closest they will come to Heaven.‚ÄĚ Has this year of 2020 with all of its COVID chaos and racial and political tension left you weary and burdened? Are there days you just long for it all to come to a conclusion and feel a little more normal? The reality is that your heart longs for more than a return to a Pre-Covid world. Your heart is actually longing for your true home – a day when there will be no more sorrow, suffering, sickness and death. Alcorn also stated in his book: ‚ÄúNothing is more often misdiagnosed than our homesickness for Heaven. We think that what we want is sex, drugs, alcohol, a new job, a raise, a doctorate, a spouse, a large-screen television, a new car, a cabin in the woods, a condo in Hawaii. What we really want is the person we were made for, Jesus, and the place we were made for, Heaven. Nothing less can satisfy us.‚ÄĚ as good as this life may ever feel or get, we must always remember that we are not home yet. The best is yet to come.

So there you have it – “Messages from the Manger!” Oh there are many to be found messages to be found – “God knows what it is like to walk in our shoes”, “God has tipped his hand regarding human value and worth by becoming a human being”, and many more. Keep listening and discovering what God says through the manger, but do not forget these three I have shared today. Let these words from the manger fill your heart and home this Christmas.

God loves you and wants you to know Him in a real and personal way! He does not want to Email, text, or Facetime you. He wants you to come face to face with Jesus!

God is more than willing to forgive you. Forgiveness is fully available and possible. Jesus paid it all and His blood cleanses us from all of our guilt and sin. Hallelujah!

God wants you live with Him in Heaven forever. Jesus is your person, and Heaven is your Home. You were made for the Person of Jesus and the place of Heaven. Hang in there! One day we will be free from the hell of this world, and at home in the presence of God!

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, I hear your voice loud and clear today through the messages of the manger. I hear the heart of love, and I see clearly your desire for me to know God in a very real and personal way. Jesus, I fully embrace You and I trust you to lead me to the Father. My heart cries for authentic love and true intimacy with my God. I will keep drawing closer to you, trusting You will keep drawing me closer and drawing closer to me.

Thank you for forgiveness and grace. I was helpless but you came to my rescue. I was hopeless and you gave your life for me. My sin is great, but your grace is greater! My guilt has weighed me down, but your mercy has lifted me. Through the sacrifice of my Savior, I am restored and redeemed. I was lost, and you found me. Jesus, You truly are the One who Saves.

Thank you Jesus for making Your home in my heart, and assuring me of my Home with you in heaven forever, and ever, and ever. It is more than I can imagine to spend eternity with you in a Home that is completely peaceful, safe, life-giving, holy, and alive. Help me remember that every moment of heartache and frustration on earth is simply the symptom of a home-sick heart that will one day be fully free from this sinful, broken world.

Lord, help me hold to these promises, and continually discover all of the messages from the manger. I want to hear and embrace all that Jesus is to me, and all that He has done for me. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. I am amazed by your love and grace. I pray to you through Jesus name, the One who came from heaven to earth, so I could one day go from this earth to heaven! Amen!

Next Steps for Today:

  • Sit or stand near your Nativity set, and focus on the Messages from the Manger. Talk with the Lord Jesus about these amazing promises, and let the power of His story and life fully hit home with you today. Receive the messages as truths for your heart.
  • If you have children, take these messages and make them simple for them to grasp. Perhaps write a letter from Jesus to them letting them know – “This is why I came!”
  • Write a letter back to Jesus in response to his messages to you. Is there a place near the manger that you can actually place these letters? If it works for you, take steps like these too bring the message to life.
  • Make a commitment to find ways to share these messages from Jesus with others. Ask God to give you the strength and power to share, and to open the doors of hearts that would be willing to listen.

Jesus is Still Born in Mangers

“The suffering of Jesus didn’t begin on the cross; it began in his straw bed, and continued through to the cross, all for our redemption.” O Come Let Us Adore Him, Paul David Tripp

Christmas is much more beautiful today than Mary and Joseph could have ever imagined. Their first Christmas was much messier and far less festive. We can truly celebrate in our day and time because of what unfolded in the mess of that first Christmas. We should celebrate with humble gratitude because Christmas fully reveals that Jesus entered into the mess of our world, He will enter into our mess if we will let Him.

Come back to this story again with fresh eyes as captured by Luke.

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration when, Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 And all went to be registered, each to his own town. 4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5 to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. 6 And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. ~ Luke 2:1-7

A young virgin named Mary received a divine visitation from the angel Gabriel and was told she would conceive a child by the Holy Spirit, and he would be the Son of God. The Holy Spirit overshadowed her and brought forth a miracle in her life, and in her womb. This miracle would have the name Jesus.

Flash forward 9 months, and Mary is close to delivering her baby. First though, she has to endure a grueling 90 mile road trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem on the back of a donkey or camel because of the census. God’s timing was absolutely terribly perfect in order to get this couple to Bethlehem – the place appointed for Messiah to be born. There were no Christmas carols to sing along to on the way. This was not a fun trip to Grandma’s house where the whole family would gather together for the holiday. This was not heaven, but a little bit of hell for the couple to get to Bethlehem and not even have a reservation at a hotel. After all the travel, they are banished to a barn as her labor pains began to intensify.

A young teenage girl had to share about her pregnancy to her fiance, who then had to be convinced by angel that her story was legit. He was ready to walk, unwilling to believe her scandalous tale of her visit from God. Joseph had no doubt that Mary had compromised herself and betrayed him by sleeping with another man. There was no other explanation possible. He went to biology class back in high school. He knew the birds and the bees, and how this stuff happens. Only a divine visitation could convince him that this was the work of God. It was messy.

So here is the couple after a crazy 9 month pregnancy, a 90 mile journey, and some promises from God. The time has come and Mary is not resting in a comfortable bed surrounded candle with a doula by her side. No one there on that night would think this scene would adorn mantle pieces and Christmas cards in the form of Nativity – and that this messy and scary scene would be one that would offer comfort and hope for years to come. That night most likely did begin looking like a Norman Rockwell painting.

They were in some type of stable, surrounded by animal and hay, and the stuff that animals leave behind. I imagine the odor was strong, and the feel of dirt and grime were tangible. Did Mary lay down on a hay bundle as she began to push in fear and pain. Did Joseph have to grit his teeth as he held her hand? Or was he the one who had to deliver? What were the animals doing as her labor pains intensified? Was anyone there to help? Or did people just hear her moaning in pain and quickly walk past the stable.

Alone, far from home, the couple has been through hell, and then HEAVEN enters the world, having come from Mary’s womb. Her pain will become the world’s gain. Jesus is cleaned off, and wrapped in swaddling cloths, and then they laid him in a manger – a feeding trough for animals. Mary is exhausted and wants to sleep; Joseph is on edge and probably wish he had a good stiff drink. Questions are dancing in their head. Promises from God through angels are on their mind as they wonder if all of this is really happening, and is really true.

Then shepherds come and ask for the child. They share what the angels told them, and how they SANG! Oh did they sing about God’s glory and His compassion and mercy to all people to bring this child into the world – A SAVIOR which is Christ the Lord. He is right there in the mess of the manger, having entered the mess of our world. Who would have predicted such a humble birth for a King? No hotel or hospital, but a bed of hay surrounded by the sight, sounds, and smell of barnyard animals and sheep.

Jesus is still born in mangers! He does not come to the proud, self-sufficient and noble ones. He is not born amidst the lives of those who have it altogether. No, Jesus is seeking humble places still in which to find his home. Humble hearts can become the perfect place for Jesus to make His arrival and presence known. You heart must not be perfect. Actually it cannot be perfect. Our hearts are messy, yucky, and probably would produce the smell of animal dung at times if smells were to come from our hearts. The beauty is that none of this bothers Jesus. He can be right at home in a humble heart, as long as that heart welcomes Him presence. If that person’s heart can admit their own mess, realizing they are incapable of making it all “just right” for God, then Jesus would gladly find his home there. “Let every heart prepare him room…” There was no room in the Inn that night, and many people will never make room for Jesus. They will put out the Nativity on the mantle and adore the story, and yet not realize the picture God presents to them concerning His work in their own heart and life. How sad to make room on the mantle for baby Jesus at Christmas, but make no room for Him in the heart.

Prayer:

Come Lord Jesus, and make my heart your home. My heart is not pretty, swept, and clean, but often messy and sinful. But Jesus, it can be yours!! Take my heart. Take my broken, sinful, stubborn, wicked, prideful, deceitful heart, and please COME IN. I turn from pride, and I humbly admit how I need you. And I want you to be born in me. Jesus, live your life through me, love through me, speak through me, walk in and through me. For I am not the hope of glory, yet Christ in me is the hope of glory. Amen!!!

A Battle of Wills!!

Do you ever get tempted to think that your will and plans for today are the most important thing on the planet that needs to happen. Hahahaha. Me too!

Jesus taught us to pray, “Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be thy Name. Your Kingdom Come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

Jesus not only prayed this prayer, and taught us to pray, but He actually lived this prayer out. Paul David Tripp in Day 14 of O Come Let Us Adore Him points out that the particular phrases in the Lord’s prayer highlighted above are truly a prayer to surrender every moment, every location, every circumstance and situation, every relationship and more to the will of the King who has called us into His Kingdom.

Tripp declares that we are either living a life of “demand or surrender.” Either I am demanding to have life my way on my terms, or I am surrendering my life to the will of God. The first option will leave us frustrated with anyone or anything that disrupts our attempts to gain what we want. How dare they interfere with “my kingdom come, and my will being done.” The second option allows us to frame the trials and circumstances of life in a different way. We can surrender to life’s inconveniences and curveballs much better, because we will trust God to bring about His will in our life no matter what.

The only One who had the right to demand what He wanted was Jesus. As Lord, he could have clearly made it known that no one was to interfere with his plans for the day. And yet Jesus’ birth and life on earth was all about submitting to a greater mission and purpose. He agreed with the Father regarding what needed to happen. He submitted Himself to the Father’s will in all things. As a human, he allowed himself to become completely dependent upon God the Father, and he leaned on the Spirit’s power and leading. His submission to the will of His Father completed salvation and restoration for the created order and the Ones made in God’s image.

What about you? What would it look like for you to get out of bed each morning and say, “Father, not my will but Yours be done. Let Your Kingdom come and Your will be done here in my life on earth as it is in heaven?” What would happen in your marriage, your relationships, your finances, your work, your life, etc. if you came before the Lord in genuine desire and petition to bring forth His Kingdom and His will in every situation of your life?

Now stop, and invite the Holy Spirit to reveal one or two areas where you really need to pray this way and surrender. Where is the Lord speaking to you? Are you ready and willing to turn it over to Him?

One final thought…

Jesus, lying in a manger. Born in a stable to a young teenage virgin girl. How did that happen? It started with Jesus saying to the Father, “Yes. I will do what you ask for the sake of sinners. Let Your Kingdom come and your will be done Father. Not my will, but Yours.”

Jesus on a cross! Beaten and whipped, rejected and abandoned, mocked and scorned. Yet He carried the sin of the world on those broad shoulders. In what looked like absolute weakness and helplessness, He was actually revealing His strength to conquer sin. He was actually giving us the help we needed. He got there because He said Yes to the Father’s plan. In the garden on the night he was betrayed, he prayed while drops of blood seemed to pour from him due to his agony. And yet He wrestled through the fear and agony and prayed, “Nevertheless, not my will but thine be done.”

Amen! Thank you for the surrender of His will for our sake. His willing to come and die would mean our freedom to come to Him and live. Thank you for saying YES Jesus. Teach me to do the same.

Prayer for Today:

Father, I come to You today in full acknowledgement of how I often wrestle to desire my own will above your will. I do not always readily accept when my plans for the day are interrupted by others or by circumstances. My pride often leads me to believe that my schedule and agenda are more important than everything else happening on the planet. Oh God, it seems so foolish to even speak that to you. I realize how absurd my thinking can become. Lord, please forgive me for wanting my will and way above the will of God for my life. I repent of my self-willed nature and ask you to forgive me. I renounce the idea that my will and plan for today, or any day, or the rest of my life is what matters. No Lord, not my will but Yours be done. My Heavenly Father, grant me the grace today of a willing and surrendered heart. What shall WE do today Father? What is your will? Where do you want to bring forth Your Kingdom today in and through my life. I bring to you the following area/areas of my life _________________________________ (What is it? Fill in the blank.) I ask that Your Kingdom would come and Your will be done in the area of ______________________. Show me what that might look like today. Holy Spirit, strengthen and enable me to live into this truth today so Your Kingdom can come forth and shine. As your surrendered Jesus, I choose surrender to You. I want to live for the things that are truly important to You. Thank you now for forgiveness, for clarity about life, for bending my heart more to Your will, and giving me the power to live for You. In Jesus name, AMEN!

Steps for Today:

  • If the Lord spoke to you about an area to seek Him and surrender, please take more time to reflect and talk to God about this. Journal your thoughts. Do not let this slip away but make it a matter of continued pursuit. If it was significant enough for the Holy Spirit to reveal it to you, then it is sure important enough to follow through with and seek the Lord on for the next few days.
  • Is there one step you can take today that you know is God’s will. It could be big or small. Is there a conversation needed, a phone call? A note or word of encouragement you need to give? Is there something you need to do you have been putting off, but you know it would be God’s will? Then do not just pray, but do it. Surrender is not surrender if it does not lead to obedience.
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