My Favorite Place

The first time I had the privilege of being in a worship service with singer/songwriter Kari Jobe I was so excited. Anticipating the sound of her beautiful voice and lyrics that my heart had deeply connected with over the years I was trying to wait patiently for her to come out on the stage.

The band started to play as she made her way across the platform and just as she began to sing there was a power failure. Emergency lighting came up. Everyone froze waiting to see what would happen next. And what happened next was something I will never forget. There was no panic. No one running around on stage trying to figure things out. A quiet stillness settled over the room and Kari began to pray.

Her prayer began with thankfulness for who God is and all that He has done. A sweetness hung in the air as she prayed. And then she prayed something I will never forget. She said, “God, Your presence is my favorite place.” That prayer touched my heart profoundly.

Soon after, the power came back on. The musical worship began and it was a beautiful time. I can’t remember a single song that was sung, but I’ve never forgotten that powerful prayer. What I left with that night was a different perspective of God’s presence.

I could pick any number of places that I would say were favorites to me. But none so precious as the privilege of being in the presence of the King. And our welcome invitation to lay our praise at His feet and tell Him…God, Your presence is my favorite place!!

To Be Continued

To be continued….whether those words follow a tv show or a heavy conversation…we know we have to wait. And the wait can seem to take forever!

I was at a celebration of life recently for a family member of a dear friend. The story was told that every time this family member would say goodbye to someone she would say, “this is not goodbye. This is ‘I’ll see you later’.” As the pastor was retelling that story he repeated that…and then he said, “this is not goodbye….it’s…to be continued”! I’ve never considered that translation for ‘I’ll see you later’ or ’til we meet again’ but when you know Jesus as your Savior…it really is – to be continued!

Saying goodbye is a very hard thing to do. We don’t want to be separated from the ones we love. It’s one of the hardest parts of this life. But, what a great celebration when we are reunited in heaven! Instead of thinking of it as goodbye…we can say…to be continued. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 gives us this hope: “And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and was raised to life again, we also believe that when Jesus returns, God will bring back with him the believers who have died.”

Because of Jesus we have all of eternity to anticipate with the ones we love. Let that thought encourage you today and bring you hope.

Did You Look Underneath…?

Have you ever been part of a conversation that goes something like this? ‘Honey, don’t we have any more butter?’ Now the word ‘butter’ could be anything that notoriously goes missing. Shoes. Keys. Remote control. Jacket. The response usually includes a general location of where the missing item should be. When the person who is searching says “I didn’t see it anywhere”….you know what is coming next….especially if you’re a mom! ‘Did you look underneath, around, behind…?’ Searching for something lost sometimes requires more than our eyes! We may have to do some actual LIFTING!

It’s often the same with spiritual things. Have you lost faith? Maybe hope feels like it has been hiding lately. Perhaps your JOY has been buried underneath so much heartache it seems impossible to find. Sometimes our greatest faith is right underneath that biggest doubt. We haven’t really lost it. We just need to LOOK and do some LIFTING. Maybe you are so worn out you don’t have the energy to lift. Here’s some good news. You never have to do it by yourself. Jesus is the light to help us find it…and can do the heavy lifting! All we have to do to get started is ask!

Matthew 7:7 tells us, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”

Just A Little T-L-C

I haven’t had much success with plants over the years. Usually within a few months it becomes obvious that my thumb is not green! Different plants need varying amounts of sunlight and water. And I just have never taken the time to learn that detail. Until I inherited a small tree planter when I moved into my office. Hidden between the desk and wall was a two foot tree stalk that had two branches with a few leaves and what I call a dead end. It looked like a branch had been growing there but was completely cut off and nothing ever grew back.

My first thought was that I was pretty sure it was doomed given my past experience with live plants. But a funny thing happened. I sat it up on my desk for a couple of days while my office was being painted and I noticed that in just that short amount of time the plant actually looked a little greener.

So I named it “Hank” and I moved it over by my office window. I made Mondays my ‘water Hank’ day. One of my co-workers came in every morning and started telling Hank how much better he looked. So I started talking to Hank. And Hank started growing like crazy. More and more growth on those original branches were happening. And then, that dead end that I mentioned, began to sprout a new shoot!

Attention and care was all Hank needed to come to life. Today, Hank is thriving and probably needs repotting although that may be beyond my capabilities! Attention and care. Isn’t that what we all need?! Is there someone in your purview that God is tugging at your heart to speak to? to encourage? to nudge into the light? to water a bit with the living Word?

1 Thessalonians 5:11 from The Message gives us the life giving care instructions: “So speak encouraging words to one another. Build up hope so you’ll all be together in this, no one left out, no one left behind. I know you’re already doing this; just keep on doing it.”

The One Whom Jesus Loved

The song “Jesus Loves Me” is still one of my favorite songs. It was a regular nightly bedtime song with my kids and now my granddaughter as well. I listen to Christian music every day that is filled with the message that Jesus loves us. And I’m so thankful as I know there are many in this world who haven’t heard that message that they are loved by God.

You don’t read very far into the gospels in the Bible to see clearly that Jesus loved His disciples and those who followed Him. In fact, Jesus’ love for the world was so incredibly powerful that He was committed to love each one regardless of their love or hatred of Him.

I was thinking of the term of endearment “the disciple whom Jesus loved” the other day. I’ve read those verses in John’s gospel so often and thought at times that John & Jesus must have had an extraordinarily close relationship for that to have been said about John. I’ve wondered if the other disciples were ever jealous to think that Jesus loved John more. So as I looked up all the references to ‘the one whom Jesus loved’ (John 13:2319:2620:221:720) I realized they were ALL written by John.

All of those Bible verses that called John ‘the disciple whom Jesus loved’ were in the book of John…written BY John. Boastful? I don’t think so. Teacher & Author, John Piper wrote, “perhaps this is John’s way of saying, “My most important identity is not my name but my being loved by Jesus the Son of God.” He’s not trying to rob anybody else of this privilege; he is simply exulting in it: “I’m loved, I’m loved, I’m loved — that’s who I am. I’m loved by Jesus.”*

What if we began to write that phrase about ourselves on the pages of our journal, our calendars, how about the home screen of our phone and computer? Your name…and these five words: The one whom Jesus loves. Would that begin to change how we love ourselves? how we love each other? Do we truly walk in the understanding that we are loved by Jesus?

Where can you write those words today about yourself? Your name…followed by these words,…the one whom Jesus loves. Because it is true. You are loved!

* John Piper (John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books.

Lessons From The Fishbowl

It all began when I agreed to fish sit for a co-worker while he was away on vacation. His little aquarium and goldfish came to my office and after a week – I was hooked! Pun intended:) When my co-worker came back to work two weeks later he retrieved ‘goldie’ and I drove right to the pet store to buy my own tank…and fish….and all that goes with it. It wasn’t long after that that we had a fish tank at home in our kitchen as well.

I learned some things through that experience. Some fish love company. They actually thrive when they can swim in “schools” of similar fish. And some fish, like beta fish, don’t play well with others. In fact, they mostly have to spend time in their own little boring fishbowl because they puff up to scare off the others if they’re in the same tank with other fish. I also learned that some fish will stay just about the same size as they get older and other fish will keep growing to the size of their environment.

Sound familiar? Come to think of it…we are a LOT like those fish. Some of us love to hang out with people just like us. We love the company. While some of us are just as happy to keep to ourselves and stick to the fringe. Sometimes we just don’t play well with others and we find ourselves in our own little bubble either of our own doing or because everyone else just doesn’t quite know what to do with us.

I think ALL of us will grow to the size of our environment. We were made to fill the earth! God created the whole earth and all that is in it and then He made us. This is what happened next between God and Adam and Eve in Genesis 1:28: “God gave them His blessing and said: Have a lot of children! Fill the earth with people and bring it under your control. Rule over the fish in the ocean, the birds in the sky, and every animal on the earth.” (CEV)

I believe the fruitful part of that command wasn’t just about having children. I believe that as God made us in His image…the Great Creator gave us creative gifts to do amazing things. Live well. Honor God and fill as much space as we can for His Kingdom and His Glory. Keep growing to the size of your current environment and watch for God to enlarge your territory.

That’s What Makes Us Grow

The smell was atrocious! There was no ignoring it as my friends and I were getting out of the van parked next to the field that had recently been ‘fertilized’. My friend Debbie said, “yep – fertilizer stinks but that’s what makes us grow!” Boom! What a mic drop moment as we all followed with, ‘isn’t THAT the truth!?!’

We don’t like it when things don’t go right. When situations are out of our control. When we find ourselves plowing through hard things. No one EVER signs up for pain and suffering. I would get in line for good times and happily-ever-afters every time if I had the choice. But this is real life. And real life includes struggles and hard places. Anxious times and stressful situations. That’s the fertilizer in our lives…and it stinks!

Thank the Lord that our fertilizer seasons are not the end of our story! We may not always see it when we’re in it. But God does. He is the Master Gardener. He knows those experiences challenge us and He loves us through them. Growing in our faith, in our love for God and for others – that is what makes it all worth it.

Philippians 1:6 tells us, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”

Welcome Home

With the wave of his hand and his very loud, yet cheerful tone, our Jewish tour guide, Amnon, could gather us all together with one arm in the air and one word…”FRIENDS”! I can still hear him roll the ‘r’ as he called us to follow him. It didn’t take very long for us to feel like we really were friends. As we traveled he would tell us stories associated with the sites and let us know the level of authenticity for specific historical events.

When we visited Israel it was more than a sight-seeing adventure. It was a pilgrimage. Our pastor was with us to help us connect Bible stories to the places we visited. The seaport of Joppa. Mt. Nebo. The Sea of Galilee and the Jordan River. The Via Dolorosa. The Garden Tomb, the Mount of Olives and so much more.

Overlooking the city of Jerusalem I found myself weeping as Amnon talked about his Jewish heritage and turned to us and said, “Welcome home”. I wept at the view of this city that Jesus loved full of people that Jesus wept over in Luke 19.”When Jesus came closer and could see Jerusalem, he cried and said: It is too bad that today your people don’t know what will bring them peace!… because you did not see that God had come to save you.”

It is hard to describe the experience of walking where Jesus walked, reading His Word there, taking it all in. If you have had the opportunity to make this pilgrimage, no doubt, you know exactly what I’m talking about when I say it makes the Bible come to life!

Whether you’ve been to the Holy Land or not, there is One, today, this very minute, who stands with His arm outstretched, calling out “Friends!” with an invitation to come and see. Nothing compares to the pilgrimage that Jesus wants to take us on. Don’t miss the invitation to know His peace and His salvation….and some day His words – welcome home!

Share Your Story

One of my favorite Pastors, Bill Sammons Sr., told me recently, “the most effective way to share Jesus with another is to tell your story of how Jesus changed your life.” No matter what we do for a living or how comfortable we are in conversation with others I am convinced that when we are willing to share our story of change it opens the door for others to identify that need in their own lives.

I think we can complicate it if we try to make the story about ourselves. The simplicity of the Gospel…the Good News…is that we all are sinners…lost and hopeless…until we meet Christ and open our hearts to the Savior. Jesus gives us hope for eternal life. Once He rewrites our story, no one can refute what God has done, because our story is part of His story.

1 Peter 3:15 (CEV) encourages us to “Honor Christ and let Him be the Lord of your life. Always be ready to give an answer when someone asks you about your hope.”

Have you shared your story lately?

I Don’t Feel Like It

Working the early hours of a morning show for radio meant that I didn’t get to see my kiddos first thing before school so when I did have a chance to get them up, and take them in, it was a treat for me. While I prayed for my children every morning, on those rare mornings that I was with them before school, I would take a few minutes to pray with them for God to be with them and help them to have a good day.

One morning, I asked my 4 year old son if he was ready for me to pray and he said, ‘no, I don’t feel like it today.’ I was crushed! Immediately I felt like I’d failed as a mom! How could this be?! I prayed over him anyway!…because…well… I’m the mom! And I tried not to make a big deal over it. But I was heartbroken!

When I came back to the car after dropping him off, I called my dad, and told him how sad I was that my little guy said he didn’t feel like praying. I’ll never forget what my wise father said very gently to me. He said, ‘well, don’t you ever have a day that you just don’t feel like praying?’ And just like that, my perspective shifted. Truthfully, I have had occasions that I felt at a loss for words to say to God.

Whether it is anxiety, exhaustion, distraction or shame, or any other reason that can keep us from talking to God I believe that when we’re honest, God can work with that! He already knows what is going on in our hearts and minds. We could build a wall and refuse to talk to Him about it…or we can admit how we feel and ask Him to help us find our way through. And He will. Every single time.

Psalm 145:18-19 (ESV) tells us, “The Lord is near to all who call on Him, to all who call on Him in truth. He fulfills the desire of those who fear Him; He also hears their cry and saves them.”