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From department stores to neighborhood markets, aisles are overrun with fluffy stuffed animals, heart-shaped boxes, and sentimental cards embellished with adorable, naked babies adorned by wings. Movie theaters roll out the newest round of romantic comedies while well-placed commercials promise “a diamond kind of love”–if only your dear one would realize the worth of giving his girl a shiny bit of bling.

heart-660377_1920Now, I’m not one of those women who dislike Valentine’s Day and I’m afraid I rather enjoy sentimental love letters. And, the chocolate? Well…studies have shown that the delightful sweet increases feel-good hormones in women.

But, none of these Valentine day pleasures truly capture the essence of love. Instead? They point out our need…our yearning…our deep desire for someone to love us. The sort of love that disregards color or size. The kind of devotion unrelated to beauty, status, or age. That beautiful, unvarnished version of being treasured by someone despite the awareness of our inner faults and outward shortcomings. Oh, to know such love!

The call of your heart to be loved unconditionally? The wish-upon-a-star dream for true love you’ve had for years? The longing to be affirmed since the cancer treatments began and the image you see isn’t one you like? I want to remind you of an incredible truth, friend. There is an answer and His name is Jesus.

Haven’t you heard? He—the only God—formed you by His hands. Tenderly and gently breathing life into your soul. He—the God who is love—gave up His son that you might belong to Him. Adopted. Chosen. Embraced. He—the Holy, Unchanging One—loves you with an everlasting love. In Him, my friend, you will discover the birthplace of love that was once-and-for-all expressed in the deliberate act of choosing death on the cross in exchange for the eternal joy of living with His children.

In this season of commercialized adulation and unmet expectations, I pray that we’ll remember the words of Scripture,

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, [k] neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)

LIVEFREETHURSDAY

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The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It’s our handle on what we can’t see. Hebrews 1:1

The wind is elusive—an idea felt; a reality discerned through its visible impact on the tangible.

Silver ripples dancing across the face of a lake that only moments before lay in repose—glassy and motionless. A sudden rush of sound sending hundreds of burnished leaves to the forest floor like gilded feathers pirouetting in the sky. A high-pitched roar of anger propelling icy pellets of white against an exposed face.

I can’t see it, but I believe the wind exists. I can feel it—an invisible, unstoppable power. A thing of beauty that demands respect. An uncontainable, indefinable entity.

In the same way, I have faith in Jesus–the invisible God-Man who displays His glory in the beauty of creation. Each towering mountain arching heavenward and every tender petal unfurling at the prompting of morning light. God surrounds me with observable reminders of Truth.

I can’t see Jesus, but I believe He exists. Some might call this blind faith. The sort of faith based on nothing more than a pie-in-the-sky optimism or a myopic view of being human—ignoring the big questions about suffering, death, and purpose.

But I’ve witnessed it—lived it.

His authority transforming the broken places from deep inside; resurrecting hope in a loved one who had none before; breathing life into the lifeless.

No, my faith isn’t an endless well—a spiritual place of self-created hope. I’m not a version of Super Christian or someone who believes every story posted on Facebook or printed by the Associated Press.

Instead, my faith is less about me than it is about the One who is faithful. And when I waver? Those times that I doubt Him? I remember who He is and what He has done. I grapple with my mustard seed faith in prayer—showing myself real and vulnerable to the God who already knows my heart. Still…He remains true to his promises. Hope. Peace. Salvation. Jesus.

 If you’re walking in doubt today, friend, cry out to Him. He bends down from heaven to listen to even a whispered prayer. Remember what He has done for you and that His desire is to give you good gifts. Eternal gifts.

Beautiful…imperishable…holy gifts for having just enough faith to believe.

LIVEFREETHURSDAY

Soul Treasure

bible-896222_1920.jpg“Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” Mark 6:31

The mound of dishes extends to the uppermost edge of the kitchen sink and, reluctantly, I begin the process of methodically rinsing each plate, bowl, and glass before depositing it in the dishwasher’s plastic divider. I have just enough time to finish peeling the baked-on oatmeal from the insides of the crockpot before my daughter rushes around the corner with a look of concern etched across her delicate features.

Mommy, I need help with my math NOW.

 Casting a quick glance toward the stove, I notice the pot on the right back burner is spitting angrily across the surface. With a sigh, I quickly twist the knob to low and turn my attention to the frustrated middle-school girl planted directly in front of me. She is a diminutive package of frustration and tears and I can’t wait for the school week to come to an end because then I she will have a break from homework.

In that moment, the dogs begin barking uncontrollably—probably at a wayward rabbit passing through the yard—and a hungry teen-aged boy utters something about being hungry.

Me? I just want to go to bed. And I wonder why some days seem much longer than the standard 24 hours.

Jesus recognized this same weariness in his disciples.

Their day had been overflowing with prayer, preaching, and healings. The people–needy and desperate–longed for someone to make a difference…to change their lives…to offer hope. And that day? Hope arrived in the form of Christ’s own apostles who spoke comfort…joy…peace.

But by the days end, the men were as empty as my freshly rinsed sink. Do you ever feel it, too? The need to be filled up…restored…replenished?

Jesus offers us the answer. Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.

 Make your appointment with the Prince of Peace, friend. Breathe in the rest only He provides. Step away from the pressures of the immediate and discover soul treasure in the Eternal. He’s waiting to meet with you today.

 

 

 

Chosen

Do you remember the awkwardness you felt as you shifted uneasily from one foot the other? Though it had always proven untrue, you anticipate somebody wanting to choose you. Your stomach twisting in knots, you cross your fingers. Please don’t let me be the last one picked! Each team captain loudly calls out the first few names of those who are gifted with speed or agility or aggressiveness. But you? You wait alongside a few other children who all seem to wear the same defeated expression on their faces.  Still, they wait bravely until someone reluctantly announces his or her name. Finally chosen.

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Maybe you were one of the children hand-picked straight away for games at recess. It’s possible you were even the team captain. But, it seems all of us experience the pain of rejection at some point. I don’t know your story, but you may have felt rejection’s sting in any number of ways.

That job you wanted. The spouse you thought you knew.  An emotionally absent parent.

But there is a truth so much greater than human acceptance or rejection. It’s an amazing story of a God so consumed by love for His children that from eternity past, He looked at our now and noticed you. Noticed me. And the Ruler of yesterday, today, and every day in between “settled on us as the focus of his love” (Ephesians 1:5 MSG).

Imagine! From the depths of a holy heaven, God called out your name and mine—and the names of all who will listen.

Not one left wanting to belong.

Nobody left waiting on the sidelines because she isn’t good enough.

No! The beauty of God choosing His children is not that we are inherently lovely, intelligent, or important but that in Christ’s resurrection, we were made free to be accepted by the Father—just as we are.

Can you hear Him calling, friend?  Listen for a moment…He’s shouting it out.  “I. Choose. You.”

 

Encouraging Scripture for Today  

13-14 It’s in Christ that you, once you heard the truth and believed it (this Message of your salvation), found yourselves home free—signed, sealed, and delivered by the Holy Spirit. This signet from God is the first installment on what’s coming, a reminder that we’ll get everything God has planned for us, a praising and glorious life.

 

 

 

 

The Best Hope of All

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I could see it crouching over her—almost visible in its size and heaviness. Depression. And dragging on its heels, you would recognize Pain and Despair if you looked carefully enough. Sliding slowly into the worn, wooden chair my friend attempted a weak smile as her hands gripped the thin paper cup and its warm contents.

The loud whirring of an industrial coffee grinder erupted over the chatter of the other customers and I asked, “How are you?”

“Desperate,” she replied.

And I thought back to a horrible night when another dear one was desperate and he begged God to help…to show mercy. And it was all he could do to survive physically when his soul felt as if it were drowning in an ocean of isolation and despair.

Then she uttered the words all of us have thought, but few are brave enough to utter in the presence of another—her heart bleeding its hurt from the inside out, “God is good…right?”

When the pain seems bigger than God, how do you answer a question like that?

I didn’t want to offer platitudes. Holy sounding Christian-eze. Cheery look-on-the-bright-side responses. Just what I knew to be true.

“God is still good. I know He is—I’ve seen it.” And I held her hand as we prayed—for comfort…for healing…for hope.

And don’t we all need hope, Friends? When nothing seems to penetrate the dark we need Hope desperately. A Hope that destroys the strongholds and promises deep, abiding soul-peace. Abiding Hope that lives larger than the problems of this world.

Lord, please! Give your child hope today!

 My words seemed almost foolish as I bent my head in a coffee shop asking for what seemed like the impossible. But, I have come to know this God–the Hope-Giver.

And knowing Him is the best hope of all.

So I keep praying for the impossible—until Hope responds to the heart cry of His child. And, He will—because He is good.

 

Scripture for Reflection

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:3–5)

 

 

 

 

 

 

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When my children were small and learning to talk, I delighted in the sound of their voices and each sweetly expressed syllable. Heather spoke with a high-pitched, tinkling voice while the boys—especially Connor—had unusually deep, raspy voices for such young children.

I met each simple request, exclamation, and phrase with keen interest and excitement. I’d lean nearer to hear the words of my precious ones, wondering what amusing little speeches might leave their lips.

In the same way, a believer’s prayers fill God’s heart with joy. Scripture even tells us that “The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord, but the prayer of the upright is His delight.” (Proverbs 15:8 NIV)

Though written directly to the people of Israel, God extended His promises to those who claim Christ as savior. As Christians, we can look to the truth of Proverbs 15:8 to encourage us in our practice of prayer.

At the time of the Old Testament writings, a sacrifice entailed any number of complicated preparations of meats, grains, or other items presented to God in an attempt to gain God’s favor and direct attention to the needs of His people. Sacrifice required a lot of work!

Prayer? Communing with God? That was—and is—all about relationship. Prayer is a heavenly invitation from the King to meet Him in the throne room where we can marvel at His beauty, find safety in His presence, and express the deepest part of ourselves to a Father who bends close—leaning ever nearer to capture each word in His memory.

Unlike an earthly parent who may listen half-heartedly to her tween’s dramatic relaying of the latest sixth-grade drama in the lunch room and respond with a noncommittal, “Uh huh. Really?” our Abba Father delights in the times we set aside to pray…to thank…to request…to worship.

And during those moments—whether we’re joyful or depressed, content or needy, subdued or expressive—we have the Maker completely to ourselves. Oh, the beauty of being able to pray!

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Enclosed in an empty, bleached environment I stood alone. Suddenly, a large rasping snake lifted its fierce head next to mine and whispered threateningly, “You’ve just lost.”

Unusually bold, I glared at the creature and responded, “No. I. Haven’t.” Then, I awakened.

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The dream had been terrifyingly real and for the better part of the day I struggled to rid myself of the frightening image. Maybe I had a bad case of indigestion from the previous night’s pizza or my writer’s impractical creativity provided fodder for fantastic imaginings, but I was reminded that a Christian is at battle against an invisible foe—a spiritual war waged outside of human time and space.

This is the stuff that sometimes seems too Hollywood to believe, but scripture exhorts us—

Be prepared. You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued, so that when it’s all over but the shouting you’ll still be on your feet. Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation are more than words. Learn how to apply them. You’ll need them throughout your life. God’s Word is an indispensable weapon. In the same way, prayer is essential in this ongoing warfare. Pray hard and long. Pray for your brothers and sisters. Keep your eyes open. Keep each other’s spirits up so that no one falls behind or drops out. (Eph. 6:18 MSG)

 Alright. It’s plain that you and I, Christian, have an enemy who is more powerful, smarter, and craftier than we. But, we are not left defenseless. In fact, the Heavenly Commander presents us with all of the tools needed for warfare—God-issued, spiritual weaponry grounded in prayer and Bible-soaked-living.

Defensive in nature, these weapons are designed to help us to know the enemy, understand his tactics, and recognize his ploys. These same tools of warfare teach us to align our personal, spiritual compass with the One in charge of angel armies and to remember that the war has already been won.

Today’s battles are merely insurgent attacks by an enemy who knows the end of his earthly rule is in sight. And one day soon, we’ll celebrate the victory of eternal life in the presence of the King of all Kings—Jesus Christ.

 

 

 

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