Sunday, December 22, 2013

Hark! The Herald Angels Sing!

(YouTube: CelticWomenVivo)

NOTE: This will be my final post of 2013. I will resume on January 1, 2014. I'm looking forward to spending another encouraging year with you.

Suddenly a messenger of the Lord stood in front of them, and the darkness was replaced by a glorious light—the shining light of God’s glory. They were terrified!

Don’t be afraid! Listen! I bring good news, news of great joy, news that will affect all people everywhere. Today, in the city of David, a Liberator has been born for you! He is the promised Anointed One, the Supreme Authority! You will know you have found Him when you see a baby, wrapped in a blanket, lying in a feeding trough.

At that moment, the first heavenly messenger was joined by thousands of other messengers—a vast heavenly choir. They praised God.

HEAVENLY CHOIR: To the highest heights of the universe, glory to God! And on earth, peace among all people who bring pleasure to God!
(Luke 2:9-14, The Voice)

I searched YouTube for "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing". There are a ton of videos (I'm not sure how one weighs videos, but you get the point) by various artists. I just picked the Celtic Woman version because I like them.

I am struck today by the deep theology in Charles Wesley's hymn text. This isn't a simple, sweet song about a baby in a manger. Check out these words:

"God and sinners reconciled"

"Veiled in flesh the Godhead see; Hail the incarnate Deity"

"Mild He lays his glory by, Born that man no more may die, Born to raise the sons of earth, Born to give them second birth."

This song contains a powerful expression of the gospel. The baby of Bethlehem was God in the flesh, who laid aside the glory of Heaven to be born so that we might be born again spiritually and reconciled to God.

Wow! I don't think I can add to that, so I will wish you a blessed Christmas and look forward to seeing you back here on January 1, 2014.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Why Bother Arming for Battle?

(photo credit:

"No matter how well you arm for battle, victory is determined by Him." (Proverbs 21:31, The Voice)

At first glance, one might assume from this passage that preparation is inconsequential. God's gonna do what God's gonna do, so you might as well go on about your business and roll with it as it comes.

Some Christ-followers even take verses such as this to mean that we should never make plans or goals, or consider strategies toward those goals. If it happens, it must have been God's will; if it didn't, it must not have been.

In some extreme cases, "I will pray about it" means "I have no intention of doing anything."

But what if we saw a life of prayer as the central part of arming ourselves for battle? What if we asked Him to inspire our plans and goals and give us discernment into the best strategies? 

What if "I will pray about it" means "I will surrender myself to God and seek His wisdom about my next step in this process"?

Question: How might such a perspective change your approach to preparation, planning, and goal-setting?

Leave a comment below.  I'd love to hear your thoughts.

NOTE: Friends, I am going to post tomorrow morning (12/22) and then take the rest of the year off. Holiday travel and holiday guests when we are home make it difficult to schedule writing time each morning. I am going to renew and recharge and be ready to kick off again on January 1, 2014. I am looking forward to spending another year with you. 

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Focused Faithfulness

(Photo credit:

Earlier this morning I posted this quote from Oswald Chambers: "People want the blessing of God, but they can’t stand something that pierces right through to the heart of the matter.”

Sometimes we don't realize that the thing that is keeping God from blessing us is ... us.

I'm not talking about a lack of faith. That's the message of the "prosperity gospel". 

I'm not talking about a lack of good works. That's the message of legalism.

I'm talking about a lack of focused faithfulness. I'm talking about the difference between doing our own thing and hoping that God will drop some blessings on us OR allowing Him to take His rightful place at the center of our lives. There is no greater blessing than knowing that we are walking in step with Him and that He is calibrating our lives to His purpose.

Question: What do you need to do today to refocus?

Please leave a comment below.  I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Journey of Surrender

(Photo credit:

"I have been crucified with the Anointed One—I am no longer alive—but the Anointed is living in me; and whatever life I have left in this failing body I live by the faithfulness of God’s Son, the One who loves me and gave His body on the cross for me." (Galatians 2:20, The Voice)

I have often heard Christian speakers talk about having a "life verse". I've also been a part of many discussions where people talked about having a favorite verse or passage of Scripture.

I have resisted both those concepts because God has spoken to me through so much of His word. My favorite verse is like my favorite song; it is the verse or song through which God is speaking to me at the moment.

Having said that, I acknowledge that Galatians 2:20 comes about as close as possible to being a life verse for me. It is, at the very least, one of my "anchor" verses.

It is a reminder to me that God is not nearly as interested in what I do for Him as He is interested in what He does in and through me. If I am concerned for God's glory, I can take two approaches: 

(1) I can try to be sure that whatever I do, I do my very best for Him.

(2) I can surrender to Him so fully that His life and His glory are lived out in me.

Notice that I did not say that I can take "one of two" approaches. This is not either/or; it is both/and. It is process and progress. It is a journey of surrender.

“The goal of faithfulness is not that we will do work for God, but that He will be free to do His work through us.” (Oswald Chambers - "My Utmost for His Highest”)

Question: What will you do today to take your next step on the journey of surrender?

Leave a comment below.  I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

He Wrote You Into His Story

(Our Nativity scene on our piano)

During this Advent season, I have been reading Janet Denison's 2013 advent devotional "Looking forward to Christmas".

One thing she said on today's reading has really stuck with me. (In fact I already posted the quote on Facebook this morning). "Jesus is not a 'character' in the Christmas story; he authored the Christmas story to reveal his character."

Wow! What a powerful truth! The author of history knows the story He wants to tell to all the world, so--just at the right moment--He writes Himself into the story and changes everything.

Furthermore, at the time of His choosing, He wrote each of us into the story to participate in the larger story of history. Mind boggling!

John 1:1-2, 14 (New International Version): In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning ... The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. 

Question: What can you do today to focus on how Jesus has written you into His story?

Leave a comment below.  I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Monday, December 16, 2013

What If I Could Guarantee You Success This Week?

(Photo credit:

"We can make our own plans, but the Lord gives the right answer. People may be pure in their own eyes, but the Lord examines their motives. Commit your actions to the Lord, and your plans will succeed." (Proverbs 16:1-3, New Living Translation)

If you are like me, Monday morning begins with reflection on the plans and responsibilities for the week. Talk about making your list and checking it twice!

These verses this morning remind us to put our plans in perspective. Several things are worth our attention in these few short words.

1. Plans are good. There is nothing in these verses that discourages the making of plans.

2. We are not ultimately in charge. Our plans are for us. They are not for God.

3. Our perspectives are often skewed. We sometimes focus on what looks good. God goes much deeper to focus on what is good.

4. If we submit our plans and our work to God, we WILL succeed. Notice that it does not say we will have the outcome we planned. It says our plans will succeed. 

Does that seem like a contradiction? Not at all! The success is in the submission of our plans and our work to God. Outcomes are beyond our control. Success in the eyes of God is measured by faithfulness to Him.

Question: What are some ways that you have found helpful to commit your plans to the Lord?

Leave a comment below.  I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

A Full Face Smile

(Photo credit:

"A warm, smiling face reveals a joy- filled heart, but heartache crushes the spirit and darkens the appearance." (Proverbs 15:13, The Voice)

As I read this verse this morning, my first thought was that I have seen smiling faces that in no way revealed a joy-filled heart. I've seen phony smiles, angry smiles, cruel smiles, disgusted smiles ... you get the point.

But then I pondered a little more the words "a warm, smiling face." That's the difference! All those other smiles have a coldness about them. Perhaps an emptiness in the eyes keeps the smile contained to the lips. The joy-filled smile is not simply a smile, but a warmth that envelopes the entire face; it is internal joy that cannot be contained.

The converse is true as well. A spirit crushed by heartache shows up in the face as well. The lips may smile, but you can see the emptiness, hurt, and exhaustion the eyes.

Sometimes we move so quickly through our daily activities that we only notice smiles and frowns. We don't see the whole face. Consequently, we miss opportunities to apply encouraging words and actions to the wounds of those around us.

Question: How can you be more sensitive today to the faces you encounter?

Leave a comment below.  I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Peace That Makes No Sense

(Photo credit:

“I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid." (John 14:27, New Living Translation)

This peace that Jesus promised must have been what the Apostle Paul had in mind when he wrote, "And know that the peace of God (a peace that is beyond any and all of our human understanding) will stand watch over your hearts and minds in Jesus, the Anointed One." (Philippians 4:7, The Voice)

We all experience times of natural peace, where there is a break in the conflicts and stresses of life, but the peace that Jesus and Paul mentioned is a supernatural peace. It is peace in the middle of the storm. It is peace that makes no sense from a worldly perspective. It is the peace at the very core of your being that comes from knowing you are right with God.

Oswald Chambers writes, "God’s mark of approval, whenever you obey Him, is peace. He sends an immeasurable, deep peace; not a natural peace, “as the world gives,” but the peace of Jesus.” (My Utmost for His Highest)

Question: On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate your "peace quotient" today?

Leave a comment below. I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

My "To Remember" List

(Photo credit:

"Honor and enjoy your Creator while you're still young, 
Before the years take their toll and your vigor wanes,
Before your vision dims and the world blursAnd the winter years keep you close to the fire." 
(Ecclesiastes 12:1, The Message)

"While you're still young"---some reading this may be saying, "Too late!

In reading the remainder of Ecclesiastes 12, we get the sense that "young" is more about the mind and attitude than it is about the calendar. I know people in their 80's that are "young"--still learning, exploring, and savoring life.

Here is a powerful idea I read this morning in my Spiritual Formation Bible:

"Suppose the day comes when the power of your memory is fading. Yet placed in a prominent place where you live is a card or a nice sheet of paper (perhaps framed). On that card you wrote years before (today), you will read ten things you wanted most to remember throughout your life. What will you read on that card?"

Question: What will you read on your list?

Join the discussion by commenting one thing you will read.  I'll go first ...

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Are You Watching the Clouds?

(Photo credit:

"Those who watch and wait for favorable winds never plant, and those who watch and fret over every cloud never harvest." (Ecclesiastes 11:4, The Voice)

There is a right time for everything. Our problem is that we don't always know what the right time is; so we begin to over analyze all the external circumstances and hesitate to "pull the trigger" on a decision or action.

Sometimes we even spiritualize our hesitance by saying that we don't want to "get ahead of God". I think that we are often so far behind God that we can't see Him and therefore assume He must be behind us.

I have seen a quote attributed to Zig Ziglar: "The best time to plant an oak tree was 50 years ago. The second best time is today."

Question: What decision or action are you over analyzing that is keeping you from your next step?

Leave a comment below.  I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

So, Sharpen the Blade Already!

(Photo credit:

"Using a dull ax requires great strength, so sharpen the blade. That’s the value of wisdom; it helps you succeed." (Ecclesiastes 10:10, New Living Translation)

As one who has chopped with a dull ax, cut with a dull saw, and sliced with a dull knife, I can attest that it takes a lot more work.

I have also worked with ministry and life tools that have gotten dull from neglect.

The greatest risk is not that our "tools" will be dull, but that we will become dull tools ourselves. In his classic leadership book, "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People," Stephen Covey says that habit #7 is "sharpen the saw."

I hope you understand that YOU are the greatest resource you can offer others. The sharpest ax in the hand of a "dull" user is an injury waiting to happen.

Question: What will you do today to sharpen yourself?

Please leave a comment below.  I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Now, That Just Stinks!

(Photo credit:

"As dead flies give perfume a bad smell, so a little folly outweighs wisdom and honor." (Ecclesiastes 10:1, New International Version)

A small foolish act can undermine the wise and honorable reputation we have worked so hard to develop.

One of the most powerful ways that foolish act undermines our reputation is the way that we can't let go of it. We keep bringing it up to ourselves. We keep feeling guilt and shame about it. We keep reminding ourselves how foolish we were. We imagine that our reputation can never be repaired. 

We can't get rid of the stink. 

I read a great question related to this in The Spiritual Formation Bible: "What do I have invested in this foible that prompts me to hold on to it?"

Wow! To phrase it differently: What right do I have to keep digging up that which God has already buried?

Question: What will you do today to resist digging up your stinking past?

Leave me a comment below.  I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Embrace the Mystery

"I saw all the works and ways of God, and it became clear to me that no one is able to grasp fully this mystery called life. Try as we might, we cannot discover what has been done under the sun. Even if the wise claim to know, they really haven’t discovered it." (Ecclesiastes 8:17, The Voice)

Just when you think you have it all figured out ... You are wrong

There are certainly things about God and His word that are understandable. He has given us enough revelation of Himself that we can make reasonable decisions about following Him. Through the indwelling presence of His Holy Spirit in those who follow Him, He gives spiritual understanding.

But there are mysteries of God that are beyond our comprehension. We can struggle with them, or we can trust and worship Him in the mystery.

Michael Card wrote a song back in 1988 called "To the Mystery". The chorus says, "Oh, that is the mystery; more than you can see. Give up on your pondering and fall down on your knees."

Question: What can you do today to embrace the mystery of God?

Leave me a comment below.  I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Corrective Lenses

(Photo credit:

"My son, live according to what I am telling you; guard my instructions as you would a treasure deep within you. Stay true to my directives, and they will serve you well; make my teachings the lens through which you see life." (Proverbs 7:1-2, The Voice)

For as long as I can remember, I have heard the phrase "looking through rose-colored glasses" suggesting the idea that a person is choosing only to see the good in a situation.

I also remember, a few years back, buying a particular kind of sunglasses (Blue-blockers) that made the green-ish looking grass in my yard appear to be a dazzling emerald green. The glasses were WAY cheaper than water, fertilizer, and hard work!

About the time I turned 40, I started needing glasses for reading. Without them, the words on the page are blurry and distorted.

As I read this passage from Proverbs this morning it occurred to me that life can be blurry, confusing, and distorted if we do not view it through the lens of God's word. That's why it is important for us to not only read a portion of God's word every day, but also to internalize it and live by it so that it becomes our lens for interpreting life.

Question: What are some ways that you can think of to make sure that we are looking at the world through the lens of God's word?

Leave a comment below.  I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

What is Ahead Begins with Today

(Photo credit:  Bill Frymire (c)2007)

"Do not say, “Why is it that the former days were better than these?” For it is not from wisdom that you ask about this." (Ecclesiastes 7:10, New American Standard Bible)

It's funny how God does things sometimes. Music is such a part of my life that I almost always wake up in the morning with a song going through my mind. This morning, it was a song I wrote 26 years ago called, "These Are the Good Days". The song talks about missing today's treasures by either looking too far forward or backward.

So, I'm singing this song to myself as I brush my teeth and get my coffee and I sit down for my morning reading and prayer time. 

There are several sources that I read from each morning and then I write this devotional based on whatever God impresses on my heart. 

This verse from Ecclesiastes was a part of this morning's reading. I have used this verse in churches many times over the last couple of decades to remind them that they must focus on moving forward.

In less than 3 weeks, I will celebrate my 52nd birthday. It is highly likely that I have more years behind me than I do ahead of me. I have experienced much in these 52 years, but there is much ahead and what is ahead begins with making the most of TODAY.

It is dangerous to drive with our focus on the rear-view mirror. It's not wise to live with our focus on the "former days".

Question: What are some ways you have found to keep your focus forward and make the most of today?

I'd love to hear your thoughts.  Leave a comment below.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

If the well's too deep, you'll still be thirsty

"The more words you speak, the less they mean. So what good are they?" (Ecclesiastes 6:11, New Living Translation)

One of my high school buddies was fond of saying, "You filled the air with words, yet you said nothing."

Some of us preacher-types often resemble that remark.

I recently heard a sermon in which the preacher mentioned that he had been accused of not being "deep" in his preaching. He said, "That's because I'm clear."  That makes me think of a water well. No matter how pure the water is, if the well is so deep you can't reach it--you'll still be thirsty.

Whether we are teaching, preaching, or just engaging in conversation--our goal should not be quantity or complexity of words, but clarity and connection. 

Proverbs 15:23 says, "A person finds joy in giving an apt reply--and how good is a timely word!" (Notice it doesn't say a timely speech).

Question: What are some ways that you have discovered to make sure that your words "connect"?

(Photo credit: Flickr)

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Trusting God for Today

(Photo credit:

"Place your trust in the Eternal; rely on Him completely; never depend upon your own ideas and inventions. Give Him the credit for everything you accomplish, and He will smooth out and straighten the road that lies ahead." (Proverbs 3:5-6, The Voice)

This has long been one of my favorite Scripture passages, though I had never read it from this translation. This one may be more familiar to you:

"Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths." (King James Version)

Regardless of translation, the message remains: We are not wise enough or strong enough to accomplish the task of living (trust in The Lord ... Don't lean on your own understanding). 

We don't deserve any credit when things go well--no matter how hard we worked at it (in all your ways acknowledge Him).

If we try to go it alone, we may as well plan on a lot of stumbling and uncertainty (He will direct your path).

I have shared these verses with graduates, newly married couples, newly ordained ministers, and others at significant life transition points.

Could they also be a good reminder as we simply transition into a new day?

Question: Which part of these instructions is hardest for you to follow?

Please leave a comment below.  I'd love to hear your thoughts on this.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Swirling Thoughts

(The fog outside my window this morning reminds me of the fog inside my head)
I have so many thoughts running through my mind this morning. I have this post to write. I have another longer post to write for my weekly Life Matters blog/newspaper column. I am preaching at a pastors conference at noon today and am still refining my thoughts for that.

Do you ever feel that way? Maybe not the writing and preaching part, but the swirling thoughts that hinder your focus?

"I have seen the kinds of tasks God has given each of us to do to keep one busy, and I know God has made everything beautiful for its time." (Ecclesiastes 3:10, The Voice)

God has made everything beautiful FOR ITS TIME.

I am praying that The Lord will show me the proper and beautiful time for each task today.

How about you? What is something you can do today to corral the swirling thoughts?
Let me hear what you think.  Leave a comment below.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Making the Unreachable God Reachable

(Photo credit:

"For if a person could keep all of the laws and yet break just one; it would be like breaking them all ... So if you know the right way to live and ignore it, it is sin— plain and simple." (James 2:10; 4:17, The Voice)

"Do not think that I have come to overturn or do away with the law or the words of our prophets. To the contrary: I have not come to overturn them but to fulfill them ... But you are called to something higher: Be perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect.” (Matthew 5:17; 5:48, The Voice)

Wait a minute! I thought this was Dr. G's cup of ENCOURAGEMENT! This seems more like a cup of hopelessness. Are you saying I can never be good enough?

Absolutely! And that is precisely what is so encouraging. What we could never, ever do for ourselves--no matter how hard we try--God did for us.

"He orchestrated this: the Anointed One, who had never experienced sin, became sin for us so that in Him we might embody the very righteousness of God." (2 Corinthians 5:21, Voice)

Jesus did not come to give us a standard to live up to. He came to show us an impossible standard, to take our punishment for not living up to it, and to make us right with God if we will trust Him. He came to make an unreachable God reachable.

Now, that is encouraging! I hope you will make your way to a worship gathering of His people today.