Saturday, December 24, 2016

The Heart of Christmas: The Ones on Whom God's Favor Rests


I know about decorating for Christmas. I understand the desire for beautiful. 

What I've written today is not intended to denigrate anyone else's holiday preparation. 

I'm writing today about my journey. It's taken me many decades to get to the place I am this year. I hope I can maintain this simple celebration, but I'm not casting stones at anyone who's not with me. 

I've been the one with the insanely large, live tree, covered with glittering ornaments and twinkling lights. I've piled gifts under that fine-looking tree, all wrapped in coordinating designer paper with wired-satin ribbon. Mounded fresh-cut greenery on the mantel and doors. Prominently displayed my Santa collection. 

There was a time when I wanted my holiday decorations to be magazine-beautiful. And they often were. 

This year, I've given up the beautiful in order to embrace the simple. 

Two weeks ago, I finally pulled out my much smaller pre-lit, artificial tree and gathered a scandalous number of boxes filled with Christmas decorations from storage. I stacked them on the front porch, then struggled with whether or not to set any of it up. 

The boxes sat there for days.

At last, a few days before my son was scheduled to come home, I set up the tree and plugged in the lights. I waited to decorate it until Ryan arrived. 

We looked at all the ornaments, collected over a lifetime. In the end, we pulled out the decorations Ryan had made as a child and the ones we'd added to his collection every year. We used a few decorations my mother had made and a couple I'd made as a girl. I sorted and he placed. 

There was a story to remember with each ornament. We savored every one.

It's the least-decorated tree I've ever had, but it's filled with the most love. The most memories. The most joy.

In truth, of the boxes stacked on my porch, only the box of nativity sets had anything at all to do with the birth of Christ. 

All the rest is worldly glitter. Beautiful but shallow. 

Can you worship Jesus in the midst of a sparkly Christmas? Yes. Of course you can, but letting go of what has come to represent Christmas to have what Christmas is truly about is oddly freeing.

This year, I've skipped the glitz and savored our Savior instead. I've marveled that our God, who reigns over heaven and earth, would stretch a scrap of skin around Himself and climb into a feed trough filled with hay to save me. To save you. 

Who would have dreamed of such a thing? Only God.

It was the most outrageous action imaginable, and yet the simplest. God became a man and dwelt among us. Loved us. Led us. Redeemed us. 

The wonder of it has brought me to tears more than once.

This year, for perhaps the first time in my life, I've celebrated the Christmas of Christ instead of the world's holiday imitation. 

It's been the sweetest holiday I've ever had.

I re-read Isaiah 66 last night and found these words: 

“These are the ones I look on with favor:

    those who are humble and contrite in spirit,
    and who tremble at my word." 
Isaiah 66:2b niv


To be perfectly clear, Isaiah does not say that God looks with favor at the ones who shun their Christmas decorations.

God looks with favor at those with humble, repentant hearts. He looks with favor (blesses) those who know His Word and try to obey. That's what trembling at His word means. We respect it and fear disobedience. 

I haven't always had an humble heart. Like many people, pride and humility battle in my heart on a regular basis. I'm sorry to admit this, but humility doesn't always win. 

I haven't yet arrived at that divinely-favored place of true, marrow-deep repentance and humility, but I long for it. This Christmas, I've had a few glimpses of that kind of heart. God will have to change the stony places to flesh, but I want Him to do it.

Christmas Day is almost here, but it's not too late. We can embrace the kind of humility and repentance God honors. We can have His favor. 

But not if we continue to embrace the world.

Today, let's stop the whirlwind long enough to take a careful look at our hearts and our holidays. If they aren't what God favors, ask Him to change them.

It's that simple. He wants us to obey so that He can favor us. We're the ones who don't. 

But we could... 

Let's ponder that for a few minutes. 

Be still. Know He's God. Worship Him. Ask Him to make us into the people He wants to favor, to bless. 

Ask Him to help us honor Him with the same simple heart He demonstrated when He launched Himself into the world and landed in a manger... on purpose. 

God loves us. 

This year, let's love Him back the way He wants to be loved. 

Simple. Humble. Repentant. 

Today, let's bow at the manger and worship Him. 
____________
In case you missed yesterday's post, here's the link: We Are Heard and Answered 

As you consider your year-end giving, please remember this ministry, which is totally dependent upon the support of those who partner with us. We need your prayers, your hands to help, and your financial gifts to continue.

If God leads you to help support this ministry of prayer and outreach, here's the link to give: Global Outreach Acct 4841 If you'd rather use a check or money order, make it out to Global Outreach. Remember to put "Account 4841" on the "for" line. Mail it to:
Global Outreach, PO Box 1, Tupelo MS 38802
#Jesus #christmas 

Friday, December 23, 2016

The Heart of Christmas: We Are Heard and Answered


Not every gift given this time of year is wrapped in bright paper and tied with satin ribbon. 

The little prayer group of which I'm a part is rejoicing over the gift of a young man with a head injury who's improving, the gift of effective evangelism in a communist country, gifts of service performed in ways that pleased the recipient. We're rejoicing over the gift of time with loved ones, the hope of redemption, the promise of God at work in our lives.

No matter what gifts are under my tree, the best gift (after Jesus, of course) will be the week spent with my son in his new home. We've laughed and played together. We've shared hugs and love.

Our time together, only just begun, was summed up nicely by Ryan's girlfriend, Hannah. "I'm having the time of my life." 

I am, too, precious ones. I am, too.

For a few days, the rush of my usual life has been set aside. I'm still working and writing, of course, because I'm still breathing, but it's an easier pace. 

This morning, I was reminded anew that we're only passing through this broken world. The joys and sorrows will end and everything will be made new. 

"For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; 
and the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. 
But be glad and rejoice forever in what I create..." 
Isaiah 65:17-18 nasb

There's a beautiful truth hidden in these words. "I create." The verb form translated here as "create" is an active participle. It indicates an action in its unbroken entirety. 

God creates. Ongoing. Unbroken.

He didn't create at the beginning of the earth and stop. He continues to create, to shape, to fashion. 

He's not only planning to create a new heaven and a new earth somewhere in the distant future. Our God is continually at work, changing the circumstances of this world, changing our hearts and lives. 

No more weeping. No more sorrow. No more shortened lifespans. No more memories of our losses or hurts. 

Instead, life, solidity, endurance, plenty. 

In this ongoing act of creation is a gift too stunning to comprehend. It's so big, most of us don't even try to receive it, much less understand it.


"It will also come to pass that before they call, I will answer; 
and while they are still speaking, I will hear." 
Isaiah 57:24 nasb

He answers before we call. 

He hears before we speak. 

He knows. He cares. He's involved. 

He's at work. 

Does that knock you to your knees? It should. 

The God who created the universe, the One who holds the stars in place in the sky, hears us. You and me. 

He hears our hearts before a word is on our tongue. 

He answers before the words are out of our mouths.

I'll be pondering this until Jesus calls me home. He knows me inside out. 

Today, let's savor the incredible gifts God has given. The gift of presence. The gift of knowing. The gift of answering. 

As we savor, let's give back with praise and thanksgiving. There is no other God like our God, who knows us, and loves us anyway.

Hallelujah, what a Savior!
___________
In case you missed it, here's the link to yesterday's post: The Great Love of God Demonstrated for Us

As you consider your year-end giving, please remember this ministry, which is totally dependent upon the support of those who partner financially with us. 

If God leads you to help support this ministry of prayer and outreach, here's the link to give: Global Outreach Acct 4841 If you'd rather use a check or money order, make it out to Global Outreach. Remember to put "Account 4841" on the "for" line. Mail it to:
Global Outreach, PO Box 1, Tupelo MS 38802
#Jesus #Christmas

Thursday, December 22, 2016

The Heart of Christmas: The Great Love of God Demonstrated for Us


Let me tell you about the goodness of God... That's not quite how Isaiah worded it, of course, but his words in Isaiah 63:7 are words that should be on our tongues, too.

"I shall make mention of the lovingkindness of the Lord, the praises of the Lord, According to all that the Lord has granted us, And the great goodness towards the house of Israel, which He has granted them according to His compassion, and according to the multitude of His lovingkindness." Is 63:7 nasb

That's a lot of words, but here's the Leanna paraphrase:

"Let me tell you how good, compassionate, loving, and kind God has been to us."

As I pondered a succinct way to state the many ways God has loved us, I realized it can be summed up in two short verses:

"For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life." John 3:16 nasb

"But God demonstrates His toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." Romans 5:8 nasb

Christmas isn't about Santa Claus or twinkling lights or fragrant trees decorated with glittering ornaments. 

Christmas is about our God, who loved us enough to clothe Himself in a suit of humanness, dwell among us, die for our sins, and raise Himself from the grave for our redemption. 

That great act of lovingkindness is what we celebrate this week, so let's remind ourselves and all those we meet of the great love God poured out on us. We wouldn't obey, and tried to destroy Him when He came, but still He loved. Still He gave. 

And He still loves.

In the midst of the commercial extravaganza the world has made of Christmas, let's commit ourselves anew to celebrating the birth of a Savior who came for us.
_________
In case you missed it, here's the link for yesterday's post: The Good News of Christ and Those Who Share it  

If God leads you to help support this ministry of prayer and outreach, here's the link to give: Global Outreach Acct 4841 If you'd rather use a check or money order, make it out to Global Outreach. Remember to put "Account 4841" on the "for" line. Mail it to:
Global Outreach, PO Box 1, Tupelo MS 38802

#Jesus #Christmas 

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

The Heart of Christmas: The Good News of Christ and the Ones Who Share It



What I'm sharing today was the "Story of the Week" for Global Outreach International this past Friday. As you read these words, remember that one missionary after another has confirmed their truth. 

Being called by God to do something "out of the ordinary" is not easy. It's not a steady harvest of salvations every day, of people thrilled to have you in their country. 


It's not an absence of spiritual warfare. It's an acceleration. If you think the evil one works hard to defeat you, try being a missionary for a week. It's non-stop, and the creative variations are, frankly, almost unbelievable.

____________


Report from the Prayer Ministry: The Gift of Truth I Didn't Want to Hear 

The battle of prayer ministry is not easy work, nor is much of anything in the kingdom of God.


I'm sharing today's story because it's a hard but beautiful thing that God has done, but also because it's truth. 


Our missionaries have a much harder job than I, and they, too, experience discouragement. They, too, struggle in the midst of service. They, too, consider walking away from the battlefield.


Our prayers are an essential part of their work. They cannot serve without our support.

____________

It had been a hard day. A hard week. A hard few months. A straw that was intended to help had landed as the final straw that broke the proverbial camel's back. 


I was frazzled, exhausted, and, once again, fighting back tears. 


I wasn't ready to quit, exactly, but I was ready to work from home. Ready to retreat to a safe place for a while, in hopes of rediscovering my optimism and enthusiasm, which were sadly missing. 


Faking it is not all that hard, but God knew.


"Lord, I don't know what to do. I need a clear word from You." What I meant was, "Tell me it's okay to quit," but I didn't expect to get that answer.


I probably would have retreated, too, if it hadn't been for the intervention of one praying man and his godly wife. 


A pastor friend helps on my farm. I stopped by the workshop, and he was primed and waiting. He'd been up all night, praying for me, and he and his wife had done the battle of prayer I could not do for myself. He had the words I most needed to hear. (These aren't all the words he said, and maybe not quite how he said them, but they're what I heard.)


"Would you fight the devil himself to save one person? Would you take a beating for one soul?"


I didn't know where he was headed, but I had a feeling it would sting. I nodded, and sank into a chair to listen.


"Then do it. One day at a time. Because the warfare you're experiencing is about the victories that have been won and those that will come. 


"The victories only come, though, if you stay engaged in the battle.


"Not even Jesus battled demons night and day. He went to the mountain and stayed there until He had the strength to go again.


"So stand. Take breaks. Leave early. Walk away when you need to. But fight in place. Go where the battle is the hardest, because that's where you'll win the greatest victories.


"You were born for the battle. You're the one who asked God to make you a rescue ship within a yard of hell. Move the boat right up to the gates and grab some souls. 


"When you need a break, take it, but for the sake of what God is doing, don't walk away from the battleground. 


"There are souls counting on you to fight for them."


He was right, of course. And I didn't walk away. At that moment, all I could do was take one more step of obedience, but one step at a time is all we're called to do, and it was enough.


I can't imagine fighting the devil himself far from those I love most, in a strange country, with strange customs, and a language that is not my own. But our missionaries do it. They wake up in a world to which they were not born, but called. They roll out of bed and do the hard work all over again. Every single day. 


It's harder at Christmas. Families gather back home. Friends celebrate together. On the field, they cobble together a holiday that looks nothing like ours, and still they choose to worship and rejoice.


We are the ones on whom they count to fight for them. We are the ones to whom they look for prayer support. Financial support. Emotional support. So let's do what must be done to help them do what we cannot. Take the good news of Christ to the ends of the earth. Especially at Christmas.


Today, take a moment to pray for the missionaries you know. They are often desperately lonely. They miss home, especially during the holidays. They miss hearing their native language. They miss their families. Their friends.


Stop long enough to make a contribution to their account, no matter how small. It may be the very donation they are desperate to have. It may be the one that puts food on their table or a Bible in the hand of a lost person. 


Even when they've walked by faith for decades, when their bank accounts get low (as in less than $50), they struggle with fear and uncertainty. Their fear is not that God cares, but whether or not people will respond to His prompting to support their ministry financially. 


Send an email. Mail a card. Make a call. Tell them you love them and appreciate their sacrifice. When the only people you see most days are the ones to whom you minister, it's easy to forget that people back home still care. 


I can't count the number of times I've emailed a missionary and had a quick reply that my words were the very ones they most needed to hear. Even a short email can make a huge difference in the life of an often-unappreciated missionary.


There are souls literally around the world counting on us to fight for them, and not all of them are lost souls. Our missionaries are counting on us, too.


Let's honor Christ this year by making sure the news of His coming is spread throughout the world. Let's help the ones who have given their lives to tell others about our God-made-flesh Who loved us enough to dwell among us. 


We can help. Let's be sure we do.

______________
If God leads you to help support this ministry of prayer and outreach, here's the link to give: Global Outreach Acct 4841 If you'd rather use a check or money order, make it out to Global Outreach. Remember to put "Account 4841" on the "for" line. Mail it to:
Global Outreach
PO Box 1
Tupelo MS 38802
#Jesus #Christmas #missions

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The Heart of Christmas: Comfort for the Mourners


If you've ever experienced the death of a friend, a loved one, or even a relationship, you know something about grief. It's often accompanied by hurt, sorrow, tears, and a sense that you just can't go on (spirit of fainting). 

There's the sense that your heart is broken and it will never be healed again. Not so, Scripture tells us.

It takes time to heal from a loss. Grief can't be cured instantly, and you can't wish it away.

Isaiah said the Messiah would comfort those who mourn. 

Instead of ashes tossed one the head as a symbol of mourning, He would bring a garland. It's not a garland of flowers, of course. The hope of eternity, knowing we'll see those we love again one day, becomes a garland of hope. It surrounds us and comforts us in our sorrow.

Instead of the spirit of fainting, that sense that we can't go another step, He gives a mantle of praise. This is a vital point in the grief process, and one we can't give ourselves. 

God takes our despair and replaces it with a mantle, a covering, of praise. He helps us to praise Him in the hardest, darkest times of our lives and, in the praising, it helps lift our spirits.

Like with any mantle, or cloak, someone else may help us into it, but we must choose to wear it. So it is with the mantle of praise. God will help us, but we must choose to continue.

The mantle of praise is available for all those who mourn, if we are willing to wear it.

No matter the cause or depth of our sorrow, when we choose praise, we show the world that our Savior still lives and heals the most broken of hearts.

There's an even better benefit of wearing the mantle of praise, however. It doesn't just make us feel better. It helps us develop deep roots so that we become oaks of righteousness and glorify our God.

For those of us who are grieving today, let's ask God for a mantle of praise and a willingness to wear it. Let's lift our heads, raise our hands, and praise God for all the blessings He's bestowed. It's not easy, but it does make a difference.

"The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me... to comfort all who mourn, to grant those who mourn in Zion, giving them a garland instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a spirit of fainting. So they will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified." Isaiah  61:1-3 nasb 
__________
In case you missed it, here's the link to yesterday' post: The Captives in the Church and the One Who Came to Set Them Free
If God leads you to help support this ministry, (prayer and outreach, both digital and in-person) you can use this link: Support Leanna's Ministry (use account #4841) or send check to Global Outreach Int'l, PO Box 1, Tupelo MS 38802. Be sure to include #4841 in the "for" line. 
#comfort #advent

Monday, December 19, 2016

The Heart of Christmas: The Captive in the Church and the One who Came to Set Them Free


According to the Gospel of Luke, after Jesus' time of temptation in the wilderness had ended, He stood up in the synagogue in Nazareth one Sabbath morning. He opened the scroll of Isaiah and began to read:

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
Because the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the afflicted;
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to captives,
And freedom to prisoners...
Isaiah 61:1 nasb

He finished reading, closed the scroll, and make a shocking statement. "Today, this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." (Luke 4:21 nasb)

Jesus stood in the synagogue and did exactly what Isaiah said He would do. He proclaimed good news to the afflicted, liberty to captives, and freedom to prisoners. 

The afflicted, captive, prisoners to whom He spoke were the men of Nazareth.  His declaration made the men so angry they tried to murder Him on the spot.

As I read about their attempt to throw Jesus down a hill, I realized Jesus began His "jail ministry" inside the walls of the local church (synagogue), where the people were captive to their own ignorance and unbelief. Their bondage was so great, they couldn't see the chains holding them.

They were so busy "doing", obeying the laws of God, that they had no time for "being" the men of God they were called to be. No time for the relationship God had intended.

I've been a church-captive before, full of head-knowledge but lacking in heart-knowledge. It's a tragic situation, and difficult to gain release. In a very real way, it's easier to come to Jesus from the bondage of the world, where you know you're far from God, than the bondage of good deeds inside the walls of the church, where you assume you're "connected."

We'll look at these verses again this week, but for today let's ask ourselves a few very important questions.

What chains hold me back from being all God wants me to be? 

What bonds keep me from having a deeper relationship with Christ?   

To what am I enslaved?

This week, we celebrate the birth of the One who came to set the captives free. The very first captives He intended to set free were the church people, so let's accept the freedom He offers. 

Shake off our chains. 

Take a step closer to the God-man in the manger.

Embrace the freedom Christ came to give.
________
In case you missed it, here's the link to yesterday's post: Becoming a Light-Bearer for God 
If God leads you to help support this ministry, (prayer and outreach, both digital and in-person) you can use this link: Support Leanna's Ministry (use account #4841)
#advent #Jesus




Sunday, December 18, 2016

The Heart of Christmas: Becoming a Light-Bearer for God


I grew up in the Baptist Church across the street from my house. Very nearly literally. If the doors were open, we were there. 

Girls' Auxiliary was one of those meetings I seldom missed. It was a kind of mission-training program for girls. We memorized Bible passages, did mission projects, and earned awards, much like the Awana program today.

One of the verses we memorized was from Isaiah 60.

"Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you." 
Isaiah 60:1 nasb

Isaiah's speaking of Jesus. He's the light that has come. He's the glory of the Lord that has risen upon us.

The passage goes on to say, "Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising." Isaiah 60:3 nasb

I didn't realize it when I was a girl, but this isn't just a prophetic passage about Jesus. It's prophetic about us, too.

Jesus has come. He brought the glory of God from heaven to us and gave us the light of God.

Our job is to rise up and shine that light for all to see.

Nations and kings, Isaiah told us, will be drawn to the brightness of our light and the glory of God that rests upon us. They will be drawn. They will come. But only after we rise and shine.

Kings and kingdoms (as well as neighbors all around us) sit in darkness, waiting for the light of God to show them the way to Jesus. They're waiting for us to bring the light.

Jesus did His part of this mission miracle. The people in darkness will do their part. 

Will we do our part?

This day, children of God, let's rise up. 

Become a light-bearer of God, the Glory-giver of Christ. 

Shine into the darkness.

If we go, they will come. It's such a simple equation, but it has eternal rewards. For those who go and for those who come.

Shine bright and get ready for those in darkness. They will come.
_______
In case you missed it, here's the link to yesterday's post: The Glorified Footprints
#advent #Jesus