23. BEHOLD: The Abundance

How many lights have you seen in the past few weeks? How many cookies have you eaten? Are there people in your life that you’ve seen, cared for, and appreciated lately? What a blessing. What a gift.

Is Christ in your life? Does the Lord ever provide for you? Are there moments when the Lord’s Word or Works make you smile? What a blessing. What a gift.

We are blessed with abundance.

It’s easy at Christmas to count every bit of abundance as a curse –so much money (spent), so many plans (so busy!), so much to do (to get ready). When those plans don’t work out or the gifts aren’t what we expected, it is also easy to count our abundance as insufficient.

But He:

“is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine,

according to his power that is at work within us,”

Ephesians 3:20

Further, the Lord is:

“a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.”

Psalm 86:15

All that the Lord has for us is sufficient. And what He has for us is abundance. It isn’t always in the time, memories, plans, or finances that we want.

He offers in abundance opportunities to come to Him, to pray, and to enter His wisdom. We are offered hope and joy beyond measure. The beauty of the world He has adorned for us is overwhelming. The ability to love and connect with others that He puts in our lives exceeds all that we can fathom.

We celebrate Christmas because of the abundant gift of life given to us through Christ. More than just coming, just saving, just being human like us, being completely passionate…or anything else…Christ is more. He is always more than we expect, believe, or dream.

His abundance is such that we always have cause to be in awe in of His goodness. That, itself, is a greater gift than all we can imagine.

Behold, the abundance of the Lord.

Behold, all that He gives filling us full with plenty flowing over.

Behold, the Lord whom we always have every reason to praise!

17. BEHOLD: The Surprise

Shh, it’s a surprise. That’s what we say when we pick out unexpected gifts and tell others about them before Christmas day.

On Christmas morning, we want our loved ones to open their gifts and light up with delight over the surprises inside. We make goodies for friends and randomly bring cookies to work, just to give a little bit of surprise joy to those around us.

The idea of gifts being surprises was God’s idea first. Imagine Mary’s surprise, to be chosen as his mother as a virgin. And Joseph’s -when an angel showed up with the best but most unexpected news. The Shepherds in the fields surely lit up in shock and awe when the skies came alive with praise.  Then, to find the newborn king lying in a manger of all places?!

Still, the surprises continued.

Many of the expectations people had regarding their coming Messiah were thrown off. They thought we would come and reign on earth immediately, not (when? Oh we still don’t know the time!) Instead of conquering with swords and great, terrifying power He won us over from death by…dying. Surprise!

When we look at all the unexpected gifts God has given and gives, we react like the Shepherds and Mary and Joseph and the Disciples with more fear than delight.

“Do not be afraid”

Luke 1:30

Matthew 1:20

Luke 2:10

There’s a reason that this phrase is so often repeated in Scripture. We, as control-seeking, nervous, limited human beings, are not big fans of surprises…until we see them work out in our favor.

Upon being surprised, we scream. We’re often terribly confused. And, if the surprise does not turn out to be wonderful and beneficial, it often becomes a story told only as a “what-not-to-do.” (Don’t we all know of “oops” surprise stories?)

Surprises from the Lord are treated in much the same way. Our first reactions when the Lord does something unexpected are often fear and confusion. We ask “well, what about this?” or “what if?” before we say, “Lord, your every gift is perfect! Thank you!” Fortunately, his grace is sufficient. His kindness does not fail.

“So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.”

1 John 4:16

We can look back through history, and the Bible, and our lives, are recognize that His surprises are delightful. No mystery of the Lord’s is shrouded in darkness and risk. When we see His surprises fully revealed, we are in awe of the gift-giver.

Behold, our reason to trust even in the unexpected.

Behold, the one whose endless grace and love continue to surprise us.

Behold, the Lord whose surprises are always perfect.

This post is being shared on: #DanceWithJesus and #LifeGivingLinkup.

16. BEHOLD: The Light of the World

These photos are from Longwood Gardens (visit if ever you get the chance!)

IMG_3891

The Christmas display at Longwood is gorgeous. At night, it’s mind-blowing. There are lights everywhere. Half a million light strands, actually.

As you walk around, the whole property is dark. Acres and acres of pitch black. There are no street lamps to guide you. All you have are the lights adorning the trees and bushes.

You realize as you explore how important light it is, and how beautiful. Without light, we’re left to stumble. There’s a reason people are afraid of the dark.

“When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.'”

John 8:12

But with light comes possibility. With light, there is hope and cause for wonder and awe without fear.

When light adorns trees, and homes, and mantles, they take on a new quality that extends beyond whimsy and tradition. Light transforms.

Exposing, highlighting, and illuminating, light rightly separates things from darkness and declares them worthy of being gazed upon.

And there is Christ, the light of the world.

Behold,  the illumination of the hope we have.

Behold, the transforming light of our Lord.

Behold, the way: lit first for us by a humble, tiny babe.

This post is being shared on: #Thought-Provoking Thursday

7. BEHOLD: The Bearer

I have 60 people on my Christmas card list this year. There are more than 10 people to buy for. That’s just Christmas stuff. The Lord blessed me with a new job a few months ago. The more people I get to know there, the longer my prayer list grows. That’s on top of the huge to-do list that multiplies at Christmas time.

Sometimes, it seems the load the lord gives me (and you!) is too much to bear.

Picture a little donkey, with a pregnant woman on his back. And her possessions. And her husband’s. What a load he bore. Imagine a teenage girl, pure and righteous, pregnant out of wedlock, carrying God’s child. That’s a hefty load.

Here’s the truth: the more people we know, the more we have to bear. The little baby boy born in to the woman riding the donkey had the whole world in His hands…a load we cannot fathom.

Jesus knows EVERYONE. And, because He loves, He bears it ALL.

“Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows;

yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.”

-Isaiah 53:4

Christ came with the weight of our every burden upon Him. He carried that to the cross and down to the grave. Today, He continues to bear our loads, saying that we can cast all our cares upon Him.

“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient,

bearing with one another in love.”

Ephesians 4:2

The burdens and loads we do bear, given by the Lord, are light because He’s holding us.

Take on one more Christmas card to make that new friend’s day. Stop to pray with the loved one now. Cross something off of your to-do list to take time to praise the one who has taken the time to walk with you through it all.

Behold, the bearer of the world.

Behold, the bearer of the best news we all need to hear.

Behold, the bearer who is bearing you today!

3. BEHOLD: The Restorer

“Now may the God of peace,

who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus,

that great Shepherd of the sheep,

equip you with everything good for doing his will,

and may he work in us what is pleasing to him,

through Jesus Christ,

to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.”

Hebrews 13:20-21

Of the many things that Christmastime is, one of the least noticed is that it is a time of restoration. It’s during this season that families and friends restore relationships that have fallen apart or been set aside, dormant.

Those who have walked into darkness and despair can more easily find at Christmas the restoration of light –even just a flicker. We call it the season of hope and joy for a reason.

This is also the biggest season of giving to right wrongs in the world. During December, people try to restore a sense of humanity to a culture that thrives on putting self above life itself.

This restoration comes because Christ has come. More than just revived from dormancy or here to right the wrongs, God restored Christ from the grave. The blood of His covenant brought Him back from the dead.

In the cold of the winter and the lonely, sorrowful moments of the season (and reflecting back on the tragedies of the year) we find that in God sending his son, He made a way to bring us back from the dead too. That little baby was more than a new life or a new form of God as man…He was life and He was the newness that we all get to enter into.

Now, like the beautiful decorations and traditions we strip down just to clean up, dress up, and delight in anew, the Lord restores us too.

Behold, the one who came to restore us, bringing us back from the dead.

Behold, the one who restores us to a place of praise.

Behold, the one who was restored by God for our sakes’.

This post is being shared on: #DanceWithJesus and #LifeGivingLinkup.

The Faithful “If”

Photo from: www.spectrumhealth.ie

In Philippians 2, Paul explains what the “ifs” of faith can amount to. We read the words “if any” over and over again. Paul explains how the “ifs” we desire can add up to joy. Sometimes it helps to read Scripture backwards.

Those “ifs,” for instance, are based on the presuppositions that follow:

  • Have the same mindset as Christ
  • Look to the interest of others
  • Value others above yourself
  • Do nothing out of selfish conceit
  • Be united in one Spirit and Mind

Before listing these presuppositions, Paul says that these “make my joy complete” (Philippians 2:2.) Paul was not speaking merely of people doing things in faith to make him proud and happy.  He was explaining not just his joy, but the joy of those who read the Word and listen, resulting in a life that glorifies God.

These presuppositions set us up for the “anys” we long for in life. They fulfill the “if” of faith needed to move us from speculative belief into faith assured by the reality of Christ at work in you and me.

What are these “anys?”

  • If any comfort
  • If any encouragement
  • If any common sharing in the Spirit
  • If any compassion and tenderness
  • If any working out of our own salvation
  • If any of God working in us to fulfill His good purposes
  • If any shining like stars

IF we desire any of these in our lives then we need refer back to those presuppositions. And don’t we desire these?

In His grace He gives us every good and perfect gift. By His mercy we are saved without doubt after trusting Christ. But He doesn’t promise to break through our every barrier and buffer. The Lord doesn’t say that we will feel His presence and have His complete joy when we don’t walk with Him.

He certainly doesn’t promise to make us feel supported and cared for when we act for selfish reasons. In fact, Scripture says that “even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong–you want only what will give you pleasure” (James 4:3.)

So often when we wonder why He doesn’t seem near and or isn’t clearly working in our lives, we are also choosing not to live near to Him or open to His working in our lives. We live “fists closed,” as Ann Voskamp says.

On the days of exasperation and desperation that we cry out “Lord, give me anything” or “Lord, I’ll take anything!” these are the things we desire. These “if anys” are what our hearts long for as we seek to live lives that glorify Him and are filled up and overflowing with His presence.

But it’s also on those days that we tend to be willing to open our hands only to collect and hold possessively close. Our hands aren’t open to giving or to clasping palms with others in the body of Christ. Our minds aren’t open to the mind of Christ or the interests of others.

We live like one way, dead-end streets to “me-ville.” At the same time, we wonder why the love of Christ doesn’t roll on in. (tweet this!)

Longing for these “if anys” but missing the point, we change our hearts to say “if only.” If only Christ were here. If only I could feel His love. If only others showed me compassion. Then…then we could get to the pre-suppositions. But that’s not the order God created.

Start with “if any” and obey. Start with Christ first and others above myself.  Draw near to Him, and He will draw near to you (James 4:8.) You won’t have to say “if only.”

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus” –Philippians 2:1-5
This post is being shared on: #LifeGivingLinkup #TestimonyTuesday, #RaRaLinkup, #Intentionally Pursuing, #WomenWithIntention, and #TellHiStory.

Love The Lord

Photo from: www.playbuzz.com

What does it mean to love the one who defines love?

Love was in the mind of the one who thought up and foreknew all that is. His voice boomed with love when He spoke all into being.

From the first sin of man to the day His perfect (all-loving!) son was rejected and crucified, even separated from God, love was at work. Even after that, after He was denied, abandoned, and all that He said that no man could have possibly known came true, His return was filled up and overflowing with love.

He showed His love for us by dying in our stead and rising again, even while we were His enemies.

Before and after that, the Lord’s love has also:

Been patient. Bearing with us through endless sinning and rejection and idolatry and selfishness (see: the entire Old Testament!)

Been kind. Giving every good gift, blessing us with His presence, peace, and an ability to live a righteous life.

Not envied, not boasted, not been proud, with the Lord Lording over us His perfection and power. Even when He has been jealous for us, He has done nothing to force us back to Him.

Has not dishonored anyone or been self-seeking. Has not been easily angered. He keeps no record of wrongs– offering for free to wipe all record of our sin and look on the sacrificial lamb of Christ instead!

His Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. So much so that all that is hidden, all we feel ashamed of, He redeems.

God’s love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. HIS Love never fails.

Familiar? That’s 1 Corinthians 13. That’s the example God has given us of what it is to love.

And He says to us in Matthew 22:

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’
This is the first and greatest commandment.”

His commandments are not impossible. Spoken and given in perfect love, the commands encompasses all others. It is as kind, patient, and compassionate as the command a parent gives their child to stay out of the road or to eat their meal. When we obey this loving command to love, we thrive. We follow God’s way –the best way.

God’s whole person is bound up in that greatest commandment –that greatest way of being. And isn’t that what all our heart, mind, and soul mean? That our whole being is to be like His by being composed wholly of love?

Think about that: to love God, we have to follow His example. Because His example is love and there is no love apart from the love He creates, defines, and exemplifies. So by loving like God loves, we love God. His love is the standard set, even for loving Him.

If you want to love God, turn your thoughts to the thoughts He has taught us. Turn your mind to the mind of Christ. Shift your heart to align with His. No greater joy is found, no greater love given or received, than to wholly give up oneself to be His.

This post is being shared on: #LifeGivingLinkup #TestimonyTuesday, #RaRaLinkup, #Intentionally Pursuing, #WomenWithIntention, and #TellHiStory.