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stubborn hard heart

The Danger of a Hard Heart

Blessed is the one who always trembles before God, but whoever hardens their heart falls into trouble. Proverbs 28:14

Sometimes life just gets hard. Particularly when you have to watch people you love suffer. We hurt when they hurt, and we don’t like it. So when people or circumstances inflict pain, our hearts get a little stony toward those responsible. We want to shut them out at best, and at worst, give them a taste of their own medicine.

But something happens when we allow our hearts to harden toward people. They begin to harden toward God.

You see, God loves people. He’s for them. All of them. And He offered up His Son on a cross to rekindle selfless love in the hearts of humanity. So the still, small voice of Jesus will incline our hearts toward mercy. Forgiveness. Love that covers a multitude of sin. Truth.

And when we insist on something else—anger, bitterness, retribution, deception—we harden our hearts to the leadership of our Lord. If we persist in denying Him, we will find ourselves in serious trouble.

Look at how God responds to perpetually hardening our hearts to His voice.

And now, because you have done all these things, declares the Lord, and when I spoke to you persistently you did not listen, and when I called you, you did not answer, therefore I will do to the house that is called by my name, and in which you trust, and to the place that I gave to you and to your fathers, as I did to Shiloh. And I will cast you out of my sight, as I cast out all your kinsmen, all the offspring of Ephraim. Jeremiah 7:13-15

When we allow our hearts to harden toward what God is speaking, we harden our hearts toward God. And when we bear His name—claiming a position in His house—He will not tolerate our refusal of Him indefinitely. When we persist in disregarding His Word, eventually His presence withdraws and we relinquish the safety He brings.

That’s not all. God added this astonishing command to Jeremiah in verse 16.

“As for you, do not pray for this people, or lift up a cry or prayer for them, and do not intercede with me, for I will not hear you.”

Can you imagine how Jeremiah must have felt hearing those words? God commanded him not to pray for these people who bore God’s name.

Judgment had fallen against the people of God. And Jeremiah couldn’t stop it. God told him not to even try.

I wonder if that thought unsettles you like it does me. God instructed Jeremiah not to intercede. He would not hear prayer on the matter. Surely this seems out of God’s character.

But this wasn’t the only time it happened. Here’s another.

For I solemnly warned your fathers when I brought them up out of the land of Egypt, warning them persistently, even to this day, saying, Obey my voice. Yet they did not obey or incline their ear, but everyone walked in the stubbornness of his evil heart…”

 Again the Lord said to me, “A conspiracy exists among the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem. They have turned back to the iniquities of their forefathers, who refused to hear my words. They have gone after other gods to serve them. The house of Israel and the house of Judah have broken my covenant that I made with their fathers. Therefore, thus says the Lord, Behold, I am bringing disaster upon them that they cannot escape. Though they cry to me, I will not listen to them. Jeremiah 11:7-11

Did you notice in both passages that God warned them persistently? Over and over, God extended mercy, imploring them to respond. Yet these members of God’s house repeatedly rejected His cries, refusing to acknowledge His desires. Their hardened hearts unleashed consequences that could not be undone.

And again God commanded Jeremiah.

“Therefore do not pray for this people, or lift up a cry or prayer on their behalf, for I will not listen when they call to me in the time of their trouble.  What right has my beloved in my house, when she has done many vile deeds?…” Verses 14-15

Oh, brothers and sisters. Verse 15 brings me to my knees. What right has my beloved in my house, when she has done many vile deeds?

Indeed. What rights can we expect God to honor when we abuse our position in His house? How long will He suffer us to disregard Him when He speaks?

Are you listening, beloved?

It’s easy to feel discouraged by the condition of the church today. In many places, an enemy has misconstrued grace for license. Holiness seems foreign. The people of God resemble the world far more than Jesus. We build our own kingdoms with little regard for Christ’s.

Yet with all of this, something stirs deep within me.

Hope.

You see. God hasn’t commanded me not to pray. Quite the contrary. His Spirit calls me to my knees. And that, beloved, means we have not yet wandered so far that we can’t return.

Do you hear Him calling too?

As it is said, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.” Hebrews 3:15

God speaks, beloved. Our future depends on how we respond.

When Jesus Speaks Your Name

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” John 10:27

Mary Magdalene stood weeping before an empty tomb. She had come early on the first day of the week, before even the sun had risen. What she found sent her running to find the disciples. Someone had removed the stone from Jesus’ tomb.

Peter and John both ran to the site. John’s young legs made it there first, but he didn’t enter. Instead he simply stared at the empty linens that had wrapped the Lord. Peter arrived behind him and stooped to go in. John finally joined him. Bewildered, they took in the scene and returned to their homes.

But Mary couldn’t leave. She stood weeping outside, grieving yet another loss. First His life. Now His body. Finally, she entered the tomb, only to discover she wasn’t alone. Two angels in white questioned her.

They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” John 20:13

My throat catches a little as I read Mary’s words. They have taken away my Lord.

I can’t imagine how she must have felt. Jesus had been taken from her. Her Deliverer (Mark 16:9). Her Savior. Her Hope.

Turning around, she saw Jesus standing there. But she didn’t recognize Him, mistaking Him for the gardener. Jesus echoed the angels’ question.

“Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?”

Desperate, she pleaded, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take Him away” (verse 15). The next moment changed everything.

 Jesus said to her, “Mary.”

The Word made flesh spoke her name, and suddenly, she knew. He didn’t look like the Jesus she had known. He didn’t sound the same either. She hadn’t recognized His voice when He questioned her. But when He said her name, she knew Him. She knew because she belonged to Him.

Jesus said it would be so.

“The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.” John 10:3

Does He speak your name, beloved? Do you recognize Him when He speaks it?

Mary responded precisely how a sheep would.

Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). John 20:16

Jesus spoke her name, and she turned.

Believing in Jesus isn’t religion, dear one. It’s personal. He speaks, and those who belong to Him hear and respond. They know when He calls their name. They move to the sound of His Word. They allow it to lead them, even when they have to change direction. But they follow, because they know Him. And they love Him.

They belong to Him.

It strikes me that Jesus waited for Peter and John to leave before revealing Himself to Mary. The disciples didn’t see the angels or encounter their Lord that morning.

But Mary did. A woman. An ordinary woman who offered Jesus extraordinary love. And I can’t help thinking that a God who IS love, cannot withhold Himself from one who gives it so freely.

Have you offered Jesus your love, beloved? Would you grieve like Mary at the thought of someone taking Him from you? Or have you kept Him so distant you’d hardly notice?

He notices, beloved. He calls your name, and invites you to respond. He bled and died so that you could know Him. Intimately. Many know about Him, but those who belong to Him know Him. And they follow, because they love Him.

Many people know about Jesus. But those who belong to Him, know HIM. Click To Tweet

On Sunday, we will celebrate the resurrection of our Savior. As we remember the cross and the empty tomb, let’s also remember what it bought us.

Intimacy. Love. Belonging. And the power to follow.

Oh Lord, I want to know You when You speak my name. And I want to turn to You every time. Empower me, Lord, to love You with obedience, that I may see You and proclaim like Mary, “I have seen the Lord!” (John 20:18)

Daring to Hope

And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. Romans 5:5 NIV 1984

I love Christmas. It’s always been my very favorite time of year.

Don’t get me wrong. If we’re talking about weather, summer wins. No question. Warm breezes, cookouts, and sunshine beat the gray winter doldrums any day.

But Christmas to me was never about the weather. It was about the feeling.

Do you know the one I’m talking about? My mother called it sugarplums. Every year the onset of Christmas carols, decorated trees, holiday smells, and overflowing trays of Christmas cookies brought inevitable excitement.

Anticipation built with each opened door on the advent calendar. Finally on the night of December 24th, I would lose the ability to sleep altogether.

Fun times.

I wish I could tell you that my childhood excitement over Christmas was rooted in something spiritual. It wasn’t. Although I marveled at the wonders surrounding Jesus’ Bethlehem story, it would be years before I understood its profound significance and opened the gift God gave me in His Son.

No, my childhood Christmas sugarplums came from the presents.

You see, for the 12 long months from one December 25th to the next, my brothers and I would hear one thing from my parents in response to asking for things we wanted. “Maybe. Put it on your Christmas list.”

So we did.

Then we’d wait. And we’d hope. And as the big day drew near, we’d wonder what treasures might actually appear beneath the Christmas tree.

Do you remember what it feels like to hope, beloved?

At some point, even if only for a few brief moments of childhood abandon, all of us have allowed the glimmer of possibility to stir our hearts.

And that stirring kindled anticipation. Perhaps that hope even inspired a step of faith.

You bought that lottery ticket.

You went after that promotion.

You opened your heart to love.

Then you waited and watched. And hoped. And you didn’t get the outcome you desired.

Unfortunately, in a world with very few guarantees, we often end up disappointed. And many of us have discovered first-hand that Proverbs 13:12 proves true.

Hope deferred makes the heart sick.

And so stories of a child Savior born in a stable with the power to redeem your life seem a bit farfetched. You can appreciate the sentimental wonder of the story, but you dare not open your heart to really believe Him for His promises.

Or maybe Jesus Himself seems to have disappointed you.

Yet Romans 5:5 makes a bold claim.

And hope does not disappoint us because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.

Beloved, biblical hope does not disappoint. But we must pay careful attention to what scripture links that hope to: love poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit.

You see, we can seek Jesus for His power. We can associate ourselves with His name to try to garner His blessing. But if we pass love by, hope in His name holds no guarantee.

The baby born in Bethlehem wasn’t the means to access God’s gifts. He is the gift.

But we can’t just stand next to Him in church on Sunday. We don’t step into His power by singing songs about Him. We’ll never find healing by owning a Bible we never open.

Love alone releases the blessings of heaven into this broken, troubled world. Love remains the only catalyst to release them in you.

And so the manger offers an incredible hope. Transforming love. Love that must first be encountered, trusted, and received. Love that can then pour out. And change the circumstances of earth.

That’s better than any shiny present under the tree.

Whatever your association with Jesus has been, beloved, will you take a chance on love? Will you open the door to your heart and invite Jesus to reveal Himself? His Spirit wants to write His Word upon your heart and transform you from the inside.

Make sure you open the gift, dear one. It costs you nothing but time and gains everything.

And it’s guaranteed not to disappoint.

Have You Opened Your Gifts From Jesus?

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:6

I trust by now you’ve had your fill of Thanksgiving leftovers. And now, I’m guessing that ornaments, evergreens, and sparkling lights are quickly replacing any decorative pumpkins and fall leaves. I’m excited to share that my own home has begun its holiday transformation.

December ushers in one of my very favorite seasons. Christmas has filled my heart with wonder for as long as I can remember. When we hung the lights, and holly and evergreens made their way inside our home, the joy that flickered deep within told me that this time of year was special. Christmas simply felt different than the rest of the year.

As a child I looked forward to it with great anticipation. I loved the family gatherings that accompanied Christmas, complete with caroling, special foods, and holiday smells. But nothing inspired quite as much awe as the sight of the gifts spilling out from under the tree.

Lots of extended family gathered in our home for Christmas, and large numbers of people meant a large number of gifts! Packages and ribbons beckoned our exploration, and I joined my brothers to examine the nametags, searching for the owner of each new possession. Joy would ripple through me when I found my name. This one’s for me.

And hope would rise to the surface. Perhaps this is the one I have been waiting for!

Do you remember how it felt to experience Christmas with the heart of a child, dear one? Can you recall the sensation of sugarplums dancing in your belly, a delightful mingling of anticipation and hope?

For many of us, routine has replaced much of the marvel of the holidays. And let’s be honest; the work often overshadows the wonder! Many have even lost the thrill of surprise on Christmas morning, having purchased and wrapped the gifts bearing their name beneath the tree with their own hands.

And Jesus, the One whom we gather to celebrate, is almost forgotten, worked into our festivities with brief mentions and a visit to church on Christmas Eve.

Perhaps we have been missing something.

I’d love for you to entertain this thought with me. What if Christmas still holds something worth anticipating? What if its offer of joy, hope, and wonder extends to more than just children? What if you and I could experience that child-like awe as we unwrap the gifts the Christ-child came to bring?

Consider Jesus’ words to His disciples during His earthly ministry:

He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 18:2-3

Do you have a child-like heart, beloved?

Jesus said that unless we approach Him with the heart of a child, we will miss His kingdom. He wasn’t just referring to the eternal kingdom He will establish when He returns. He was also warning us that we can miss the kingdom blessings we’re supposed to experience on this earth until He does.

Jesus came to the earth to draw us to Him in divine relationship and reveal the glory of what’s to come. He came so people like you and me could know Him and experience a foretaste of heaven.

Have you tasted it, dear one? You’re meant to!

What if we tried a new approach this Christmas? What if we choose to see Jesus as the all-surpassing gift scripture claims He is? What if we open our hearts to believe like little children and take a chance on believing God for more?

Let’s invite the wonder of Christmas to return! Gifts bearing your name await your attention under the tree. Jesus invites you to explore them so you can claim them as your own.

This one’s for me.

What gift do you need to open, beloved? Healing. Restoration. Redemption. Forgiveness. Reconciliation. Power. Purpose.

And Jesus said to him, “‘… All things are possible for one who believes.” Mark 9:23

‘Tis the season for believing, dear one.

Allow your heart to open with the wonder of an expectant child. Approach Jesus with hope and anticipation.

Beloved, Jesus holds the gifts you’ve been searching for all your life.

From Victim to Victor

By Juliet Sharrow 01419676c13f3393ae901dec23ae13cff24f8cb52d-1

Our people must learn to do good by meeting the urgent needs of others. Titus 3:14a NLT

Victim.

It’s a label no one ever asks for. In fact, it’s a label that has to be forced on us! No one EVER chooses to be a victim. But that label forever defines us. It taints every decision, every moment, every occasion for the rest of our lives. We filter everything through our victim mentality. It can take years for us to trust again, to feel normal, to hope… to love.

Even if you’ve never been a victim yourself, I would guess that you know someone who shamefully wears this label. Victims see the whole world and every circumstance through the tainted lens of their victimhood. Victim becomes their identity. They believe this is who they are and who they always will be.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness month, a time for us to remember and honor victims, especially those who have died as a victim, carrying this identity to the grave. The sad part is this is not an unstoppable evil! It is not a cancer that ravages our body and we have no control over it. Abuse is one person choosing to hurt another.

Often abuse occurs between two people who love each other, and sadly even occurs in marriages. Do you know what it’s like to be beaten every day by the person you love? Have you been torn down with ugly, hateful, demeaning words until you believed they were true? Do you understand how it feels to wake up each day and wonder if today is the day they will kill you? Countless people around the world live with this fear every day!

UNICEF reports that 1 billion people worldwide who are alive today, have experienced or are currently experiencing domestic violence. And in the US, 1 in 7 adults (over 40 million people) currently live with or have lived with domestic violence, causing UNICEF to label it “one of the most pervasive human rights violations in the world.”

Do these numbers surprise you? They should, because domestic violence is our best kept secret in this country. No one wants to talk about it, and even fewer will admit they are part of this statistic. But I stand before you today admitting that I a member of this statistic. I have worn the scarlet letter of victim for most of my life. I carried the shame of victimhood far too long. I believed the lies my abuser and Satan spoke to me, lies that told me I was unloveable. Unwanted. Worthless.

Can I let you in on a secret? All victims believe these same lies. Just ask them if they feel unloved, unwanted or worthless, and you will see their eyes well up with tears as they lower their heads in shame!

Life experiences have taught them they are unlovable. But God says differently.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16

God believes these victims are worth dying for.

Their abusers and sometimes even their families tell them no one wants them. But God says:

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart.” Jeremiah 1:5a

“You did not choose me, but I chose you…” John 15:16a

Society tells her she is worthless. Worth less than those who have a husband, or a good job, or a put together life. But she is treasured by God. Created in His image. Priceless!

These women don’t realize how beautiful, loved, wanted and valuable they are! And they won’t know until someone shows them. They need someone who makes them feel things like hope for the first time in a long time. Someone who speaks light into their darkness and life into their crippled hearts of stone. Someone who shows them their beauty in Gods eyes by loving them in all their ugliness, who shows them the depths of Christ’s love for them by serving them in their darkest hour and providing for them in the direst of circumstances.

These women don’t just need a handout. They need love. They need someone to show them how desperately God wants them by walking alongside them through even the hardest of days.

This is the mission God has laid before us here at Kelley Latta Ministries. We have felt His call to be His hands and feet and minister to these broken families. To serve them and love them and walk alongside them on their journey to independence and freedom. To break through the lies in their belief system and deliver them into the freedom truth promises.

“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:32

This ministry was birthed through my own background of abuse, domestic violence, and homelessness. God used my past, my pain and my struggles to birth a passion to minister to and love those who are where I have been. While at the same time laying it on Kelley’s heart to reach out to the orphans and widows of our day—broken families—as scripture commands. God joined our hearts and our passions as we obediently followed His lead in founding this outreach ministry called Love LIVES.

The focus of this ministry is to meet the needs of abuse victims and their families along with the broken and down trodden in our communities. We do this by providing for financial, physical, emotional and spiritual needs. In meeting the most basic of human needs we build trust and show them they are not alone and that someone cares. This lays a foundation that enables us to share the love of Christ and the good news of the gospel with them.

When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality. Romans 12:13 NLT

We also offer a mentoring program that allows us to walk alongside the victims on their journey to freedom and victory. Our mentors were all victims themselves, so they understand the struggle these ladies are going through and can minister to them in ways no one else could! In this way we share life with them, counsel them, love them and help meet ongoing needs with the goal of enabling them to not just survive but to thrive!

Through Love LIVES we have answered the call to minister to the forgotten and unwanted. We stand beside these victims and broken families to show them that their lives matter. That they are valuable. And that someone actually cares whether they live or die!

But we need your help. We cannot do this alone. We invite you to partner with us in making a difference in the lives of these women and their families.

You can help us meet the needs of our clients on an individual basis by joining our email list. We send out emails listing individual client needs as they come in from the Safe Home. We don’t expect you to help with every need, but only as you are able and feel led to. If you get the email and want to help, you let us know. It is that easy! And remember, even what seems like the smallest gift can mean the world to them.

We are also looking for those who would like to partner with us financially through a one time or monthly tax deductible gift. We use these funds to help victims with first month’s rent & security deposit to get an apartment or to help pay their rent or utilities in extenuating circumstances. We also use financial donations to purchase needed items that aren’t donated, or that we must purchase new, like car seats and mattresses.

Would you prayerfully consider partnering with us as we reach out to a lost and hurting world, giving them hope and sharing the love and grace God has so lavishly blessed us with? Will you stand with us to prove that Love LIVES?

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Exposed…And Set Free!

Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? Psalm 139:7

We spend a lot of time hiding.

Who we truly are.

What we really think.

How we really feel.

Our hiding began the moment seeds of sin embedded in man’s heart. Those seeds bore immediate, unwelcome fruit.

Shame. Guilt. Regret. Fear. Blame.

And that fruit still does what the enemy intended. It makes us hide.

Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.

 And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. Genesis 3:7-8

Adam and Eve found themselves naked. Exposed. So they did what they could to cover themselves and hide their true condition. But their hiding only distanced them from God.

Distance remains the enemy’s goal, dear one. He wants to separate us from our Creator so that he can render us powerless.

But while we might feel better with a little distance, the God who created us does not.

But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” Verse 9

God’s intense love for man pours out from the pages of Scripture. He pursues us. Always. Disobedience doesn’t withdraw His affection. Rejection doesn’t stop His pursuit. We may run from Him, but we can never really hide.

Yet we still try. And He still calls us out from hiding.

Like Jesus did to a woman hiding in the crowd in Galilee.

He was on His way to Jairus’ house to heal his dying daughter. The crowds pressed in on Him, enjoying the spectacle this extraordinary Healer brought to their ordinary lives.

But one in the crowd had no interest in the spectacle. She needed the Healer.

For 12 long years she had suffered with a discharge of blood. She had spent all she had on physicians, yet no one had helped her. Her misery continued.

And shame engulfed her. This condition wasn’t just an inconvenience. According to Jewish law, her constant bleeding made her unclean. Defiled. Unworthy.

Twelve years she had born this burden. Alone. Hiding. Hating her existence.

And then word reached her of a Healer from Nazareth. One who made the blind see. Who healed withered hands. Who raised the dead. And something took hold of her that had eluded her for a long time.

Hope.

I can picture her slowly making her way through the crowd toward Jesus, heart pounding wildly with every step. And then she was there. Close enough to touch Him, staring at the back of her Savior.

She came up behind him and touched the fringe of his garment, and immediately her discharge of blood ceased. Luke 8:44

Imagine her wonder as knowledge set in. The bleeding had stopped. She knew it. It was finally over. Or at least she thought it was. A voice interrupted her private celebration.

And Jesus said, “Who was it that touched me?” Verse 45

Familiar emotions surfaced immediately. Fear. Guilt. Shame.

She said nothing. The crowd clamored denial, and Peter responded with earthly logic.

“Master, the crowds surround you and are pressing in on you!” But Jesus said, “Someone touched me, for I perceive that power has gone out from me.” Verses 45-46

The wild pounding in her chest ceased momentarily as realization dawned. He knew.

And when the woman saw that she was not hidden, she came trembling, and falling down before him declared in the presence of all the people why she had touched him, and how she had been immediately healed. Verse 47, emphasis mine

She confessed everything. The woman hiding in the shadows unveiled herself before everyone present, baring her shame.

And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.” Verse 48

I have to ask, dear one. Why did Jesus do it? Why call her out in front of all of those people?

He already knew the answer to His questions. He knew exactly what had happened and who had touched Him. He had the ability to discern thoughts. So why expose her? Why not let her have her private, personal moment with Him that no one else was privy to?

Why, indeed.

Beloved, Jesus had more to offer that precious woman than physical healing. He could’ve let her slink back into the darkness, but then she would’ve missed the greater healing she so desperately needed.

She still would’ve carried her shame.

The only way to penetrate darkness is to let light in. And this dear daughter had spent 12 long years hiding. Feeling less than. Unworthy. Unclean. Separated.

When she willingly chose to expose herself to Jesus in front of the crowd she feared, He set her free. From all of it. Public opinion no longer mattered. Fear no longer controlled her.

Jesus made her well.

What are you still hiding, dear one? What grips your heart in oppressive darkness?

Expose it, beloved. Death lurks in darkness. Life is found in the light.

Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. Psalm 103:2-5

Daring to Hope

And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. Romans 5:5 NIV 1984

I love Christmas. It’s always been my very favorite time of year.

Don’t get me wrong. If we’re talking about weather, summer wins. No question. Warm breezes, cookouts, and sunshine beat the gray winter doldrums any day.

But Christmas to me was never about the weather. It was about the feeling.

Do you know the one I’m talking about? My mother called it sugarplums. Every year the onset of Christmas carols, decorated trees, holiday smells, and overflowing trays of Christmas cookies brought inevitable excitement.

Anticipation built with each opened door on the advent calendar. Finally on the night of December 24th, I would lose the ability to sleep altogether.

Fun times.

I wish I could tell you that my childhood excitement over Christmas was rooted in something spiritual. It wasn’t. Although I marveled at the wonders surrounding Jesus’ Bethlehem story, it would be years before I understood its profound significance and opened the gift God gave me in His Son.

No, my childhood Christmas sugarplums came from the presents.

You see, for the 12 long months from one December 25th to the next, my brothers and I would hear one thing from my parents in response to asking for things we wanted. “Maybe. Put it on your Christmas list.”

So we did.

Then we’d wait. And we’d hope. And as the big day drew near, we’d wonder what treasures might actually appear beneath the Christmas tree.

Do you remember what it feels like to hope, beloved?

At some point, even if only for a few brief moments of childhood abandon, all of us have allowed the glimmer of possibility to stir our hearts.

And that stirring kindled anticipation. Perhaps that hope even inspired a step of faith.

You bought that lottery ticket.

You went after that promotion.

You opened your heart to love.

Then you waited and watched. And hoped. And you didn’t get the outcome you desired.

Unfortunately, in a world with very few guarantees, we often end up disappointed. And many of us have discovered first-hand that Proverbs 13:12 proves true.

Hope deferred makes the heart sick.

And so stories of a child Savior born in a stable with the power to redeem your life seem a bit farfetched. You can appreciate the sentimental wonder of the story, but you dare not open your heart to really believe Him for His promises.

Or maybe Jesus Himself seems to have disappointed you.

Yet Romans 5:5 makes a bold claim.

And hope does not disappoint us because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.

Beloved, biblical hope does not disappoint. But we must pay careful attention to what scripture links that hope to: love poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit.

You see, we can seek Jesus for His power. We can associate ourselves with His name to try to garner His blessing. But if we pass love by, hope in His name holds no guarantee.

The baby born in Bethlehem wasn’t the means to access God’s gifts. He is the gift.

But we can’t just stand next to Him in church on Sunday. We don’t step into His power by singing songs about Him. We’ll never find healing by owning a Bible we never open.

Love alone releases the blessings of heaven into this broken, troubled world. Love remains the only catalyst to release them in you.

And so the manger offers an incredible hope. Transforming love. Love that must first be encountered, trusted, and received. Love that can then pour out. And change the circumstances of earth.

That’s better than any shiny present under the tree.

Whatever your association with Jesus has been, beloved, will you take a chance on love? Will you open the door to your heart and invite Jesus to reveal Himself? His Spirit wants to write His Word upon your heart and transform you from the inside.

Make sure you open the gift, dear one. It costs you nothing but time and gains everything.

And it’s guaranteed not to disappoint.

Live Your Freedom

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” Galatians 5:1

On Friday we celebrate freedom from oppression, liberty purchased for us by the blood of those who came before. I am so thankful for their sacrifice, and for their part in establishing this great country where we can live in the freedom of democracy.

As we pause to reflect on our liberty, may we also remember another who bled for our freedom: the precious Son who gave His life as a ransom for many. Jesus suffered the cross so that you and I could live free.

Are you free, dear one? Have you left behind the shackles of past hurts? Are you still locked in the bondage of controlling sin? Beloved, Jesus shed His blood to purchase your release.

The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners.” Isaiah 61:1

We live in uncertain times. The face of liberty has changed in the United States of America. Perhaps you share concern over the direction our once great nation appears to be headed. Take heart! Hope looms on the horizon. Its power rests within hearts of the redeemed.

Consider God’s promise in 2 Chronicles 7:14,

“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

What if we celebrated this Independence Day by standing on the promises of the cross? What if we took God at His Word and believed that the enemy who seems to loom so large has already been defeated? What if we picked up the sword of the Spirit and fought to reclaim and maintain the freedom Christ bought us with His blood?

Beloved, Jesus calls His body to return to the shelter of His wing (Luke 13:34). Will you answer the Spirit’s call to revival and let the power of God heal our land?

It sounds good in theory. What Christian wouldn’t applaud the masses turning to the Lord in repentance? We love the concept, but we often ignore the means. You see, God desires to begin revival in you and me.

What if you chose to make it personal, to really believe the promises in God’s Word were meant for you? What if you really could be free and were able to experience the miracle of a transformed heart? What if your prayers actually could have the power to open the heavens?

Jesus waits for you to trust Him, dear one. All of His promises are true. And they’re meant for you. I pray that this Independence Day will mark the beginning of your own journey to real freedom. May you become all that Jesus bled and died for you to be, and may you discover with joy that in Him, you really do have the power to change the world.

 

 

The Word, the Rock, and the Gates of Hell

“And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

Matthew 16:18 ESV

I’d love to see Christ’s church prevail against the gates of hell. Wouldn’t you?

In days when we see evil advancing—where atrocities set before us in the news turn our stomachs and vulgarities have become commonplace—this promise from Jesus to His eager, bungling disciple offers hope.

But do we actually expect to see it? Do we view this promise as a present hope? Or have we relegated Jesus’ words to a future assurance we won’t see realized until His return?

Beloved, what if you and I could see that prevailing church advancing in our day? What if we really did have the power to set the kingdom of evil on its heels and smash its gates?

Jesus spoke those words to Peter on a pivotal day in history, the day he first proclaimed Jesus to be, “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (verse 16).

Well done, Peter. That day, at least, he got it right. Stumbling, precocious Peter boldly proclaimed what he knew in his heart to be true. Jesus was the Promised One heralded in the Old Testament. The Christ had come. The Kingdom had come. And things would change forever.

Indeed, they did, just not exactly in the way they had expected. The army of the Kingdom of God advanced, but not against the reigning Roman government as the people had hoped. Instead, Jesus loosed His army to victoriously trample an unseen spiritual foe, the force behind the present evils they suffered.

Dear one, Jesus offers that same invitation to us today. But like the majority of Jews in Jesus’ day, many of us have set our gaze so firmly on the final earthly kingdom Christ will establish when He returns that we’ve overlooked the current one. We mutter prayers, “Come quickly, Lord,” hiding in our homes and churches, hoping the storms will pass us by.

Beloved, we’re missing the opportunity to participate in the glory of that kingdom now.

What if we chose to believe what Jesus said in Mark 1:15,

“The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”

Celebrate with me that the Kingdom of God has come near! It lives within the church (Luke 17:21). And that kingdom, loosed in the body of believers, will do in our day the very thing that Jesus promised Peter, “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18).

Wouldn’t you like to witness a little victory? Wouldn’t you like to get your feet wet in the front lines at the turning of the tide?

Jesus’ words in our opening Scripture have led many to believe that God chose Peter to be the rock on whom He would build His church. Although Peter did become a leader and pillar of the early church, I’m not sure that’s what Jesus had in mind with His statement. After all, the church could only be built upon one Rock—Christ Himself. Jesus certainly knew better than to rest the future of the church in the hands of one man.

So what was Jesus saying to Peter that day? Let’s get a little context.

Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Matthew 16:16-19

One of the most significant parts of this passage often remains overlooked. Let’s read verse 17 again.

For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.

Jesus’ teaching on the rock comes in direct correlation with that statement, a continuation of the thought. “And I tell you…”

Consider with me for a moment. What if Jesus’ teaching has less to do with who Peter was and more to do with the example he set in that moment? What if the rock Jesus referred to wasn’t Peter himself but rather his ability to discern what the Father was speaking and his desire to believe and live out of what he heard?

Not convinced? Let’s tune our ears to something else Jesus said.

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.”  Matthew 7:24-25

Hmm… “… and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). Sounds like a similar promise to me. A house built on the rock withstands the storm that rages against it. And what’s the rock? Hearing and living out what Jesus speaks.

Dear one, Peter had heard what the Father was speaking into his heart about His Son, and he believed. He lived out that belief by altering his life to come into agreement with what God had revealed to Him. He stood before Jesus and boldly declared Him the Christ at a time when the majority of his fellow Jews did not.

And Jesus said, “Yes Peter. Keep hearing my truth and adjust your life to it, and you become a stone, strengthened and built upon my Rock. This is how I will build my church. Keep that up, Peter, and the gates of hell will not be able to advance.”

Could it really be that simple? Could we really become empowered to overthrow hell’s gates merely by seeking what God says and adjusting our lives to what we discover?

Well, isn’t it worth a try? Consider the alternative.

And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.” Matthew 7:26-28

How far the church has fallen since the day our Lord first spoke those words to Peter. Jesus invites us to return, beloved. His Truth still speaks, and He’s looking for men and women like Peter who will allow their lives to resonate with its sound.

Let’s tune to the voice of our Shepherd, align our lives with what He speaks, and remind the world of 1 Corinthians 4:20,

For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power.

 

 

A Mother’s Struggle to Trust

Not again.

Clutching my Bible and prayer journal, I retreated to my favorite chair, eager to spend some time with the Lord. Well, that’s what I told myself anyway. I really just wanted to feel better.

Here I am, Lord. I scratched the words on the page, searching for where to begin. Worship filtered through my headphones, the uplifting beat of the melody marking a stark contrast to my mood. My mind tuned to the lyrics, “All we need is You.”

Instantly, conviction pierced my heart with the unsettling knowledge that I didn’t agree—at least not that day. That day I needed more than Jesus. I needed Him to fix things.

Guilt compelled me to confess. I’m sorry, Lord. I want you to be enough, but this is too much . . .

A jagged scar from an old wound had just been torn open. The familiar longing for acceptance tugged at my heart, crying out for satisfaction. Rejection had found me again. But this time, it had come for my son.

That changes things. I can handle the battle when I’m at the heart of it. I’ve learned to trust God’s plans for me even when I can’t make sense of them. He’s proven Himself faithful over and over again.

But this felt altogether different. This wasn’t about me. This time my child’s heart had been shattered, and I desperately wanted to fix it. I can’t be expected to idly watch one of my precious ones suffer.

My heart rebelled at the injustice of it. Anger mingled with the pain, begging retaliation. This wasn’t fair. He deserved better.

God should do something.

Soon His gentle Spirit stirred within my heart, lifting the veil so I could see. Realization dawned, penetrating my grief with this undeniable truth: God knew. He understood rejection. He understood the pain of seeing His Son cast aside—of wanting the world to recognize His great value, yet seeing it deny Him.

“He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.” John 1:11, ESV

In that moment, I knew His suffering. I felt His pain. How the Father must have wept when they rejected Jesus. How He still must weep as we repeatedly devalue His only begotten Son . . . the Son He loves . . . the Son He gave.

Hope flickered through my sorrow, God’s own understanding of my feelings encouraging me to press in close. I asked Him to speak to me, to help me trust Him with my own son’s fragile heart. I needed Him to help me believe what I knew His Word declared: that His plans for him are far greater than my own.

True to who He is, God answered. Once again, His Spirit stirred, reminding me of truth. God never allows suffering for its own sake. Suffering, according to Scripture, marks the path to glory.

“But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.” 1 Peter 4:13, NIV

Then I knew. God had glory to reveal in my son’s life.

This pain would pass, and God would somehow bring good through it. It wasn’t what I would choose for him, but the God who created Him and wrote his story knew what I couldn’t. For whatever reason, my son needed to walk through this. His despair would not be in vain. Through it God would reveal Himself.

I sat in the stillness, pen in hand, and listened, inviting the God who speaks to do so again. Soon His quiet whisper stirred within me, and I found my hand moving once more across the page.

He is mine, beloved, just as you are mine. I AM greater than his pain . . . than your pain. You will soon see.

A promise.

Tears fell in response, my heart hopeful. God always keeps His Word.

I thought of Abraham and how he must have felt as he placed his son, Isaac, upon that altar. I imagine he did it with trembling hands and a breaking heart. But place him there, he did. And Isaac received the blessing that came through his father’s promise.

God had spoken blessings over my son as well, and I had a choice to make. I could retreat into my anger and justify my sorrow. Or, I could trust God to keep His Word in my son’s life. I could fight to change things and try to manipulate his circumstances so I’d like the look of them better, or I could choose to believe the God who speaks and entrust my son to Him with open hands.

I decided I wouldn’t withhold him from the God who loves him even more than I do . . . and then it came. I experienced Jesus’ promise from John 14:27,

 “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.” ESV

The wonder of it always astounds me. I can’t explain the how of it. I simply revel in the miracle of it. But when I run toward Jesus in my confusion instead of from Him—and I listen—I find peace.

It happens the moment I resolve in my heart to believe.