God's Surprising Choice for an Unlikely Leader

     Imagine for a moment that you have an ordinary job, maybe lowest on the totem pole, in an ordinary business, and don’t have a great salary.  You don’t know any influential people and you are a member of a small church. On what began as an ordinary day, an angel visits you with a message from God. Your life becomes extraordinary in a matter of days because the angel gives you an assignment.
      You are at once shocked and overwhelmed. The task is far out of reach for you circumstantially. Your interactions with the Lord are first to question, resist and then test Him. Eventually, you give in to the Lord knowing what He’s asked you to carry out is authentic. He assures you that He will stand beside and advise you each moment with the right strategies.
      The result is success! You listened, you implemented the strategy, and God’s will through you is carried out.
     You have just read the story of Gideon as recounted in Judges 6: 11-12. Here’s how it unfolded: "And there came an angel of the Lord, and sat under an oak which was in Ophrah, which belonged to Joash the Abiezrite: and his son Gideon threshed wheat by the winepress, to hide it from the Midianites. And the angel of the Lord appeared to him, and said to him, "The Lord is with you, you mighty man of valor." Gideon belonged to the tribe of Manasseh, not well known like the tribe of Judah. 
Gideon and his men making a racket
     Gideon responded to the angel, “Our family is poor and I’m the least important in it.” He basically said, “Me? You can’t be serious!” Gideon finally assented not knowing how in the world he would defeat the powerful Midianites which is what God asked him to do.
     The Midianites ruled over Israel at that time. The Lord gave Gideon some counterintuitive strategies. Instead of thousands of soldiers to defeat the enemy, God pared the number down to 300 men. Instead of classic weaponry, God instructed Gideon to arm the men with torches and shofars. They won because they listened to God and did it His way.
     I’ve gleaned some important lessons from our biblical friend Gideon. Even though he was fearful already-hiding from the enemy when the angel appeared-he finally gave in and obeyed. I identify with Gideon’s resistance and arguing with the Lord even when Gideon laid out two different fleeces for confirmation.
     I’ve experienced moments in life where I felt stubborn or ill-equipped for a task. I felt like God was asking me to climb Mt. Everest and I’m no mountain climber! Yet knowing God was on the mountain so to speak, I ventured out one step at a time. Reaching the summit of the task, I found myself overwhelmed with gratitude and humility that God allowed me to be a small part of something He wanted to accomplish.
     What task is God asking you to carry out? Are you full of doubts? Lean on Him, consult with Him on His strategies and you will gain the ground He wants you to take. If God is challenging you to step out of your comfort zone and you know with certainty that He is in it, go for it. It’s easy to doubt ourselves but trusting in a doubt-dispelling Lord is a winning solution! 
     God saw valor in the insecure Gideon and mentored him into courage.  God will do the same for us!

Lenten Season-My King Lives

   The Lenten Season commences on Ash Wednesday, a forty-day time of meditation, repentance and reflection in our liturgical calendar leading to Easter, the most momentous event in human history. Embracing the season of reflection about the events of Jesus’ last days on earth before His crucifixion and resurrection is an opportunity to enrich our faith.
     Passover and Easter link intimately together offering the story of our Perfect Jewish Passover Lamb in His victory over death through His shed blood. God instructed the Jewish community to celebrate their freedom from Egyptian slavery when the Angel of Death passed-over the lamb’s blood-marked doorposts in their simple dwellings in ancient Egypt. Jews have celebrated their festival of freedom for 3,000 years. For 2,000 years, Christians have celebrated the debt payment Jesus secured for us when we invite Him to live in our hearts under the freedom of His shed blood.  At His last Passover in Jerusalem, Jesus inaugurated the first Last Supper.
     While reading from The Passion Translation bible this morning, I ran across this beautiful verse, James 1:22, “So always let His Word become like poetry written and fulfilled by your life.”  The verse reminded me of my husband whom I call The Poetry Man. He wrote one of my favorite poems and I share it here as a Lenten Meditation.
     My King left His throne, born into the human race as a baby, crawling, gurgling, drooling; the Creator of sound unable to utter a word. 
     My King grew into an uncrowned royal toddler, learning to walk, touching everything around Him, experiencing, with human hands, all that He created. 
     My King, unrecognized, grew into a Jewish teenager, talking with the Temple Rabbis who marveled at His words, not grasping His royalty or the fact that their Messiah was enlightening for them the very words He wrote. 
     My King grew into manhood working in the carpenter shop with His earthly Abba making chairs, tables, cabinets. Then suddenly, His Highness put down the tools, kissed His mother good bye and walked to the Jordan where John recognized His Royalty, baptized Him, and Father affirmed His call. 
     My King, knowing this earth was not His kingdom, served as a Rabbi at thirty, a teacher, a healer, a lover of the unlovable, calling those whom He created to walk with God the Father in a relationship rather than a rulebook. 
     My King was obedient to His earthly call as completely God and completely man, fulfilling the scripture He wrote; not uttering a word of revenge as they shed His Royal blood. On the cross, it was “Father, forgive them” under the sign “King of the Jews” scornfully tacked over His head. 
     My King died! Soldiers pulled His limp body from the cross. How frail He seemed! Only six hours, so little time to kill the greatest Man to ever live. Overcome with tears, not understanding, those who loved my King carried Him the tomb. 
     My King did not remain in the tomb. He conquered death. Six hours to die, three days dead, and then victory! The King of the Jews became the King for all humankind giving us the gift of eternity. 
     My King now lives high and lifted up at the Father's side and in the hearts of all of us who believe. My King Lives!  

Is your King alive?

Forgetting the Man of Sorrows?

     Our lives here on earth can become minefields of sorrow and challenge. When they surprise and arise, do we remember  that Jesus is the Man of Sorrows? Do we call on Him for help? Will He understand our situation? What does it mean when scripture says Jesus was “a man of sorrows acquainted with grief?” Isaiah 53:3
     Our incarnational Jesus, fully God and fully man, endures as the unparalleled  representative of this remarkable duality. Since he was God Incarnate, all His infinite power was at his disposal. Yet, He clothed Himself in the form of a human- an “earth suit”-subjecting Himself to our earthly experiences. Some of us suffer sorrows in big doses; others to a lesser degree yet all of us- and throughout history- encounter grief, problems, and an array of challenges.

     How did our Lord address His human life? Walking the land of His earthly Jewish family, what can we learn from Him when problems landed on His path?
     First, Jesus had every reason to retaliate against injustice but He consulted His Father in Heaven and chose another way; lessons we must learn in our Christian walk when we face the tangled, tight  knot of life’s problems.  It's easy for us to defend ourselves or respond badly but Isaiah 53:7 tells us that when oppressed, Jesus purposely bore affliction demonstrating the supreme example of navigating life’s challenges and pain.
    When Jesus ascended back to His heavenly throne, He promised, then sent His Holy Spirit as our Counselor and Comforter. 2 Corinthians 1:3-5 reminds us how the Man of Sorrows- and we- can receive help in times of trouble: “ Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. 5 For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.”
     Jesus drew from this same Spirit to endure His crucifixion. He’s given us access through His sacrificial death on the tree and His resurrection to bless us with new life for the asking.
     When we are a “person of sorrows,” let’s remember to call on the Man of Sorrows who understands, who bears our burdens and comforts us with His Holy Spirit He left behind.
     The cross is empty. Our Man of Sorrows is also the King of Glory. Thanks be to God!

Oswald Chambers: A Lasting Role Model

     Reverend Oswald Chambers is one of my favorite devotional writers.  Although his life was short-dying at 43-his legacy lives on through his many books, especially MY UTMOST FOR HIS HIGHEST.
Chambers in 1906
     It may be easy to think someone of his stature  experienced a life free of challenges.  Not so for Rev. Chambers.  He grew up in Scotland, tended sheep during his school years, came near to  a nervous breakdown during a four-year battle with depression. The pastor and accomplished teacher persisted through it all. He was basically unknown except to a circle of friends, students, and soldiers until after his death due to his wife taking notes from his sermons and talks. She then compiled them into books. Without his vigilant and dedicated wife, his profound legacy would be lost to us. He nicknamed Gertrude his "Beloved Disciple" shortened to B.D. then Biddy. Thanks Biddy!! 
     When World War I broke out, he served as a YMCA Chaplain in Egypt to British troops. He died there in 1917 buried with military honors in the Cairo War Cemetery after he had an appendicitis attack.  He refused to go early enough to the doctor saying, “The beds will be needed by men who will be wounded in the Third Battle for Gaza.”(This battle, one of many, pitted Gen Allenby and his troops against the Ottoman  Empire.)
     The depth of Chambers’ faith manifested in the middle of his challenges. Here’s one of his many excellent quotes: “God does not give us overcoming life. He gives us life as we overcome.”
     I’m inspired by Oswald  Chambers’ life as a role model for placing himself in God’s hands in adversity.  Yes, his life was short  but his legacy is long-lasting. 

The Heavenly Reunion

     Many of us have lost loved ones. We long to see them again. Hug them. Talk with them. Both my precious parents graduated to heaven- thirteen years apart- by the time I was 32 years old. They died before our children came along. And before most of the major milestones in my life. That feeling of "orphaned" is a tough one to conquer yet being adopted into the Lord's family offers valuable emotional benefits here on earth.
     The eternal benefit though is the one that means the most to me. I am assured in many ways through God's word in the bible that I will experience an unimaginable joy when we have a family reunion in heaven! I hope to encourage my readers today with this uplifting way to look at the death of a loved one. #HeavensHope

Prose by Henry Van Dyke, 
19th Century clergyman, educator, poet.

I am standing upon the seashore.
A ship at my side spreads her white sails
to the morning breeze and
starts for the blue ocean.

She is an object of beauty and strength.
I stand and watch her until at length
she hangs like a speck of white cloud
just where the sea and sky come
to mingle with each other.
Then, someone at my side says ,
"There, she is gone!"
"Gone where?"
Gone from my sight. That is all.

She is just as large in mast and hull
and spar as she was when she left my side
and she is just as able to bear her
load of delivering freight to her destined port.
Her diminished size is in me, not in her.

And just at the moment when someone at my side says, 
"There, she is gone!"
There are other eyes watching her coming, 
and other voices ready to take up the glad shout; 
"Here she comes!"
And that is dying.

Googling God

     I’m a writer and spend many hours researching source material and quotes to broaden my perspective and get the facts right on a topic. As a Christian who is also searching for inspiration from God, “googling God” is a necessity when I’m facing writer’s block or any kind of personal challenge or problem. That’s why I appreciate this poetic quote!

“The world looks to Google for an answer. When I need an answer, I google God.”  Poet Paul L. Samuels

     Yet, in the process of looking for answers, I often find myself first worrying. Waves of anxiety crash into my thoughts. Fighting the undertow, I’m gasping for air when the light finally turns on; push back the waves and “google God!”  It’s another way of reminding myself to pray. I don’t always need to go on the world wide web. The bible is the best source for my daily life. Its pages, filled with ancient information and inspiration have stood the test of time; information about knowing a loving, redemptive God and following Him as I navigate life.
    It’s a fact that God Himself created wireless communication since the days He set the world and the planets into place and His ultimate creations, humankind. Angels as His Messenger service, Fire and Cloud to communicate directions in the Exodus, Torah scrolls preserved in jars of clay. As we lift our words to the Lord, He hears them; just like our emails collectively go to their trillions of destinations all over the world, our prayers have a destination too.  One destination is enough; the Alpha and Omega, the God of the Universe.
     In the Lord’s friendship with us and His direction to fellowship with others, He’s also the Master of Social Media. In the family of God, He’s given us many guidelines in the bible to develop strong bonds of interpersonal relationships.
     And what about Twitter?  After all, He did create the birds! 😊
Isaiah 59:1-2 assures us, “Behold, the LORD's hand is not shortened,
That it cannot save; Nor His ear heavy, that it cannot hear. “

How to Cope

Great Smoky Mountains
     Coping skills are important but we must make sure we choose the healthy ones. When gray clouds   of anxiety are floating over me I sometimes tend to cope by shoving my worries and painful situations into a box of unresolved emotions. I push the box into the far corners of my emotions hoping that the lid will stay on.       
    Yet, in reality, it’s an opportunity for the enemy of my soul to launch a covert operation which undermines  my relationship to the Lord and my general well being.  The unresolved, stuffed emotions float into my mind with negative messages blocking out the truths our Lord provides with His presence and His easily accessible words to me in the Bible.
     Here’s the best way for me to cope: 1 Peter 5:7 (NIV)  “Cast all your anxiety on Him for He cares for you.” Cast ALL anxiety on the Lord.  Not just one.  ALL.
     Casting my anxiety on the Lord means authenticity. He already knows my heart but talking with Him about it begins the process of handing over the anxiety or pain.
     Instead of stuffing a box full of unresolved pain and worry and compartmentalizing it, I choose to call out each one and envision myself placing it in a box and handing it over to the Lord. He is the Burden-Bearer. He bore our sins to the cross.  Handing over my troubles to Him releases freedom into my spirit.  I breathe deep, thanking Him for His loving kindness. I breath Jesus in, I breathe worries out.
     Matthew 28:30 is the Lord’s promise to me when I hand over my box! “For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” For me, this process is a discipline. I must switch the repository of troubles from me to Him! I hope you are encouraged today to cast your cares on the Lord!

How did I Miss Pavarotti?

     On a recent flight to Israel via New York I watched  a movie on the domestic flight which stirred many emotions in me. The movie, produced by Ron Howard, was a documentary about Luciano Pavarotti, the world famous Italian opera singer. 
     I had certainly heard the Pavarotti name, watched him perform briefly on PBS, yet had, in essence,  paid scant attention to his magnificent voice. Or the performances of the famous Three Tenors, of which he was one when they first performed in Rome.
     I enjoy all kinds of music from Christian to big band to beach music, country, Celtic and classical. I grew up in a fine children’s choir, sang in a traveling college chorus and later sang professionally many years ago. My  genre was folk music thanks to Peter, Paul, and Mary, Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie,  and Gordon Lightfoot.
     Yet on the flight, I found myself transfixed by many clips of Pavarotti’s performances included in the film.His four-octave vocal range was so magnificent that I felt connected to what heaven’s songs may await us. Tears  filled my eyes listening to his larger than life voice emanating from his larger than life presence.
     I learned much about his background, his 1935 birth in war- torn Europe, his rise to fame, his captivating personality and warmth, his later generous humanitarian outreach to needy children and yes, his imperfections in his personal life.
     How did I miss Pavarotti? Were my musical interests too narrow? Did I shy away from opera because I didn’t understand the Italian language? Was my curiosity lacking? Boy, I sure missed blessings not listening to him!
     Mixed into my musical questions, other questions presented themselves. What other joys may I have missed, like listening to the soul-moving voice of Pavarotti? Or pausing long enough to listen to the profound words of the Lord in scripture. Or His still voice  in the middle of a personal storm? Or savoring small, yet precious moments woven into everyday life?
Photo-Mariomanias,Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0
     Watching the movie on the flight was an unexpected  reminder of beauty. A reminder of songs and voices that God has deposited in world cultures.  The operatic Pavarottis, the Hillsongs, the South African harmonies, the lilting Celtics,  and other genres which lift the soul.
     I’m not certain yet how the Lord will shape my film moments with Pavarotti and his magnificent voice but I’m certain that my connection  is a fine beginning to my time in Israel at the Christian Media Summit and other encounters.  I hope I don’t MISS anything this time!

Ancient Paths & Modern Steps

     For the second year, Israel's Government Press Office (GPO) invited me to their 2019 Christian Media Summit attended by 140 media from across the world. I’m riding-and posting-while on a bus at the invitation of the Druze Community heading up to the Golan Heights in northern Israel.
Before the Summit, I visited the City of David.I’ve been before but this visit held profound moments for me. A friend arranged a VIP tour for us which included King Hezekiah’s 2,700 year old water channel open to the public and walking on The Pilgrim Road not yet open to the public.
     I rolled up my jeans and left on my shoes and stepped into the channel where the ceiling was at times only 5 feet high and the walls 2 feet apart.  The chilly water flowed through the tunnel at 6 inches to a foot deep.  Tears filled my eyes realizing not only the architectural achievement of the ancient chiselers but to connect with the ancient steps of the Jewish people who devised-with God the Architect's intervention-the channel which created a security buffer.  Remarkably, thousands of workmen began chiseling at two different points and met in the middle.  The supernatural directions took the place of modern equipment and lasers.
The Pilgrim Road Podium
      Afterwards, our VIP Guide opened the lock on a steel door.  We stepped onto 2,000 year old pavers-stones- onto The Pilgrim Road still under excavation. Again, I found myself emotionally overcome knowing that Jesus Himself, his Jewish birth family, later His disciples and many thousands of Jews traversed this road for their three annual Jewish festivals in Jerusalem, the ancient and now modern capital of Israel.
     I’m sure Mary and Joseph retraced their steps on The Pilgrim Road to find Jesus- who as a boy was missing - as he sat in The Temple astonishing the religious leaders.  Along the way, my friend and I saw, then sat on a four layer stone podium.  It was easy to think that Jesus in His three year ministry stood on the podium to teach. Our Bible is filled with the ancient paths; teaching, guidance, poetry, praises, stories, history, prophecy, admonition, hope, and so much more. An ancient book of life, a guidebook, a source of life and comfort for modern steps.  Ancient words that are timeless and never grow old. Ancient paths that we must wisely walk with our modern “feet.”
 Jeremiah 6:16 holds a wonderful promise for walking the ancient paths yet the verse is accompanied by a strong warning: “This is what the Lord says,’Stand at the crossroads, stand by the ways and see and ask for the ancient paths where the good way is and walk in it; and you will find rest for your souls. But you said,  ‘We will  not walk in it.’”
     Walking the real ancient paths in Jerusalem gave me a profound perspective to “walk the good way” and a reminder not to disobey and miss the blessing of rest for my soul and walking in the right direction.


Will the Roses Bloom Again?

     My husband and I enjoy growing roses, inhaling their fragrance, and beholding their beauty bursting out in rich colors. Just recently, now that winter has made its debut, we went to the toolshed and pulled out the pruning shears. The annual cutting commenced. It’s our habit to prune the wooden branches back deeply. We prune so that we enjoy their beauty, their proliferation once more in the spring after they sink into dormancy during the cold months.

     We are not experts so it’s good to know it’s hard to kill roses with pruning, even when cut back close to the ground. Pruning our roses creates a sense of expectation for us, knowing we have something to look forward to when the buds begin to form again in the spring. In our lives though, pruning can create a sense of frustration, even desperation. Sometimes, when John 15:2 manifests in our lives, we don’t recognize the process as pruning. "…and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit.” 
     If the Lord allows something to be removed, corrected, or disciplined it’s easy to become frustrated, angry, or somewhat hopeless.
We indulge in a series of questions and challenges. “Why is this happening to me?” “Lord, I don’t like You delaying answers to my questions.”  “Please! Give me who/what I want.” “Haven’t I matured enough?” “Aren’t You pleased with my life?” 
     In my times of questioning and challenge, it’s a good idea to remind myself that God has not forgotten me. He’s not leaving me alone to grow into a wild, untrained rose bush that could eventually become useless. He wants me to be as fruitful as possible in my life here on earth. Yet, the barrenness, the sense of stuck-ness that I perceive as negative, in His hands is what I call a “productive dormancy.” A time to go underground so to speak. To look inward asking the Lord to make use of it. It’s easy to wonder if the Master Gardner has walked away from my life. It’s where life may appear to be meaningless, but much is happening in the spirit often unseen or unrecognized for what it is. A time of pruning. A time of waiting. A time of hope when nothing appears on the horizon.
     Then a time comes when the pruning pain and the outward deadness begins to transform little by little. A sprig of hope here. A tiny bud there. The sun shines brighter, and the warmth creates an unfolding rose. Then I realize once again, that the pruning has a purpose. It’s painful, yet like the rosebushes, the pruning has not killed me. The Lord never let go. I’m embracing a deeper trust. Knowing the strength of endurance. I’m basking in the realization that the Master Gardner was there all along; invisible yet attentive even when I did not sense His presence or His purposes. 
     And like the roses of spring, my life and my time of pruning passes. Song of Solomon 2:11 is now a reality. “See! The winter is past; the rains are over and gone.”
     Yes, no matter how often the Lord prunes us, the roses bloom again under our Master Gardner’s skillful, wise Hands.

Christmas & the Day of Lambs

     While debate still exists about the actual season of Jesus’ birth, some facts are settled. Jesus’ earthly Jewish parents traveled from their home in Nazareth up to the hill country of Judea to Bethlehem to meet the requirements of Caesar Augustus’ census order. The trip covered around 80 miles and took possibly 4-6 days. The prophet Micah foretold Jesus’ birthplace: "But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times." 
     Bethlehem is the birthplace of Jesus’ forefather King David. Luke tells us that Joseph, Jesus’ adoptive father, belonged to the house and line of David too, thus the journey to Bethlehem. God is the Master of ancestry and genealogy!
      Bethlehem is significant for other reasons too. Its definition means, “House of Bread.” Our Savior is the Bread of Life. Bethlehem, as the birthplace of King David and Jesus,  scattered throughout the prophets’ writings in the Old Testament.
     Another fact that connects Jesus as the Perfect Lamb of God to His birthplace is rich with meaning. Fast forward to Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. The day we call Palm Sunday is, in ancient Jewish custom, the Day of Lambs. When Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey on our "Palm Sunday," it occurred on the same day when shepherds annually herded huge flocks of Passover lambs into Jerusalem, the Day of Lambs! Divine context at its finest! The connection has even  more significance....
     The Sadducees, one of the Jewish religious parties, owned the lambs. Not only that, they required the lambs to be born in Bethlehem! Bethlehem…Jesus birthplace! Only Bethlehem lambs could be sacrificed during Passover in The Temple. The Sadducees’ custom was like a “lamb beauty contest” as they stood outside the Sheep Gate and inspected each one making sure none were blemished. Perfection was the rule. When Jesus rode by on a donkey, the priests saw The Perfect Lamb. The Sadducees' jealously and evil intent grew as they heard the shouts and praises of many thousands of overjoyed Passover celebrants. 
     When shepherds herded Bethlehem lambs into Jerusalem for sacrifices in The Temple for annual Passovers, Jesus born in Bethlehem, sacrificed Himself on the cross for our sins at Passover outside Jerusalem. At the same time, priests were slaughtering the lambs in The Temple capturing their blood in vessels and pouring it on the altar. Each lamb was then spread out and hung on sticks in the shape of a cross and skinned.  The symbolism is unmistakable. Unlike the Day of Lambs that took place each year, Jesus’ sacrifice was a one-time sacrificial act enough for all time.
        How fitting that while “SHEPHERDS watched their flocks by night,” a chorus of Angels gloriously serenaded the birth of The Perfect Lamb. The shepherds walked and found their way to His lowly surroundings and celebrated with the angels and Jesus’ parents. I wonder if some of these shepherds who witnessed His birth still lived to see the day when Jesus entered Jerusalem for His last Passover. 
     Jesus, The Good Shepherd, The Perfect Lamb, among the bleating herds on the Day of Lambs; all birthed in the hills of Bethlehem where the Christmas story began. It ended with The Passover Lamb on the tree gasping His last human breath in agony. 
     Three days later, a world-changing crescendo into His glorious Resurrection reset the world’s timeline. Perfect salvation moments in history, designed by our Perfect Father in Heaven in a perfect plan of Redemption though The Perfect Lamb of God.  Merry Christmas to all!

New Year Thoughts

     A new year may find you facing new decisions, new adventures, new changes.  Queen Esther found herself in an unexpected situation when God unfolded her true destiny. As you read her story, "A Beauty Queen Turns Diplomat,"I hope you'll find encouragement in a brand new year! 

Esther, “Hadassah” in Hebrew, is a famous Queen in the pages of biblical history. Her story reflects how one ordinary person responded to God’s call. Her obedience resulted in an extraordinary rescue of her Jewish community during Ahasuerus’ reign, also identified as Xerxes I, King of Persia. Persia is the nation of Iran today. The Persian Empire at the time was the largest ever, stretching across three continents; Europe, Africa, and Asia. Estimates suggest a 50 million population, 44% of the world’s people. It’s clear that Esther, an orphan, truly lived into the Persian meaning of her name, “Star.” Esther steps on the runway of history when the King decides to hold an ancient beauty contest to replace Queen Vashti who had displeased him so much that he demoted her.  Thus, the king’s messengers searched the empire for contestants for the King’s beauty pageant.

     Imagine for a moment; Esther lives in obscurity under the protection of her uncle/cousin Mordechai who is said to have adopted her since she had no family. While the numbers are lost to antiquity, some scholars estimate the Jewish population at 20% in the Persian Empire. Esther and Mordechai were among them.
     Esther competes in the beauty contest held in Susa, one of the King’s ancient capitals. The story heats up after the King chooses Esther, the winner, a shis new Queen.  Mordechai then overhears the plot of Haman, a high official in the King’s court. Previously, Haman and Mordechai had an encounter where He refused to bow to Haman. This seemed to light a fire in Haman against the Jews as a whole. It manifested in his plan to persuade the King to issue an edict to kill them. Mordechai then talks to his well-placed niece with news of the plot, asking her to appeal to the King.
     Through Mordechai, we hear God’s words spoken in Esther 4:14-“For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” (NIV) This is the moment where Esther must examine her courage quotient.
     Will she be known for her beauty or for her courage? Will she remain comfortable or step out into the unknown? She decides to become a “divine diplomat.” She consulted with God Who gave her the right strategy to reveal Haman’s evil plot to the King. King Xerxes responded by sending out a decree across the empire ordering the Jewish community’s rescue.
     God uses all kinds of people and contexts for prayer and strategy matched with willing believers to serve as His vessels. He can use a beauty
queen, a mechanic, a nurse,  a businessperson, a teacher, or a construction boss. We are not royalty like Queen Esther, yet we ARE royalty adopted into God’s family through our own King of Kings, Jesus.  Let’s stay alert to God for His directions in the new year. 

     "You can never cross the ocean unless you have the courage
to lose sight of the shore."  Christopher Columbus

Cliff Notes for Prayer

     The Lord’s Prayer is like Cliff Notes. Short yet eloquent. When His disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray He compressed the most recited and essential Jewish prayers from the Old Testament and downloaded them to His disciples. Remember, the ancient Jewish people before, and few decades after Rabbi Jesus’ day, only the Old Testament existed.
      “Our Father Who art in Heaven” was Jesus’ prayer focus. Old Testament patriarchs didn’t "know" Jesus, although the Old Testament highlights many spiritual encounters and promises the hope of a future Messiah. Beginning with His call to Abraham, God created a culture where His word and chosen people would become the vessels for His world-saving redemptive plan. Jesus taught in synagogues unrolling Old Testament scrolls written in Hebrew. The New Testament remained to be written.
     The Lord’s Prayer is full of the essentials. We worship & adore God for Who He is. We confess our sins, ask forgiveness and forgive others. We ask for our daily bread and make requests to God for ourselves and others. We thank Him for his lovingkindness, goodness and mercy. It’s the DNA of a Christian’s prayer life.
     The Lord’s Prayer carries richer meaning when we study its Jewish roots. Here’s an example: When Jesus taught, "Give us this day our daily bread," the disciples instantly understood that concept since God provided manna every day during the 40-year Exodus from Egypt to the Promised Land. The Exodus story was and is deeply engraved into the Jewish culture. Jesus Himself says in John 6, “I am the BREAD of LIFE.“ He assures us of His presence in our own lives.  Eucharist/Communion is a weekly reminder. Every word in scripture was penned by Jewish scribes, except for Luke, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
     When we pray we don’t always feel an emotional dynamic. Yet, the act of praying influences our souls & daily walk. The Lord’s Prayer appears in Matthew and Luke.  But there are many types of prayers.
     List Prayers-Writing down names and situations for prayer
The Lord’s Prayer- The most popular prayer in the world
Crisis Prayers- For troubling situations.
Intercessory Prayers- Praying  for others
Prayer Walking- Through neighborhood and cities
Warfare Prayers-Asking Jesus to dismiss the enemy’s activities. 
Listening Prayer- Sitting still giving God room to speak   
Immediate Prayer- Stopping to pray in the moment itself 
Praying Scripture-Read the Psalms
Short Prayers-“Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy. Lord have mercy.” 
     In closing, there are 1,100 references to prayer in the Bible in 61 of the 66 books. Here are a few:
1 John 1:9- “If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
Psalm 113:3- “From the rising of the sun, to the place where it sets, the name of the Lord is to be praised.”
Jonah 2:1- from the belly of the whale: “I called out to the Lord , out of my distress, and He answered me...”
     And here is the profound prayer Jesus uttered while hanging on the tree as the Substitute for our sins and Redeemer of our souls. Luke 23:34 “Father, forgive them for they know not know what they are doing.”

Even Albert Einstein was Wrong

     In the early 1700’s when astronomers were making advances in building to study the skies, stars and planets, they operated on the theory that only six planets existed; Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. Then, in 1781, the Herschels, a British brother/sister astronomer team, discovered a seventh planet, Uranus. They viewed the new planet through a telescope they built themselves. 
     The discovery vaulted them into fame since a new planet had not been discovered since ancient times. Astronomy reached deeper into the skies with telescopes built to probe the universe and into the early 20th century much remained to be found. Scientists thought only one galaxy and one milky way existed; Ours.
Even the brilliant Albert Einstein declared in a 1917 paper on cosmology, “The universe is finite.” Then decades later with the space launch of the Hubble Telescope in 1990, the presence of galaxies stunned the world with awe and majesty compliments of Hubble's photos. 
     Even with the touted Big Bang Theory in 1927 and the massive constellations still coming to light, God’s artistry cannot be relegated to an accident of the universe. The Universe is too exquisite. Too complex. And too vast to be an accident. I take the creation story literally. Not only the creation of animals, trees, oceans, and skies but human beings when God creates new life in the womb. Psalm 139:13 “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb.”  Without much science, the ancients knew where life began and that God created the earth, moon, stars, skies, fresh water and everything else.
     In my opinion, I think it takes more faith to accept the “big bang theory,” than to look at the perfection and majesty of the universe and credit it to God’s Intelligent Design, His masterpieces. Looking into starry skies while standing on a desert or sitting on the beach watching falling stars, it’s an opportunity to think about our smallness and God’s vastness. It's a good piece of introspection to remind ourselves to honor God's opinions more than ours. As scientists look outward for discoveries-which I do appreciate-we must search our own hearts and welcome the Lord’s Presence and wisdom into the very small universe of our lives. 
     Some may think that I am simplistic or naïve yet Genesis is, in my opinion, more coherent than saying the universe is 13.8 billion years old. How is that measured?
     God has repeatedly proven Himself to me with His generous love, His sovereignty, trustworthiness, and rescuing me in all kinds of crises and problems. It makes more sense to me to trust Him with His track record than to trust a scientist with information that cannot be validated.
     If the brilliant Albert Einstein was wrong, then I’ve decided it’s wiser for me to trust the Creator of the Universe.
“He determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name.” Psalm 147:4
 “Only in the darkness can you see the stars.”
– Martin Luther King Jr.

The Right Clothes

    The television series  Downton Abbey has transported many of us into the fascinating world of Britain’s landed gentry.   We are now  anticipating the soon-coming release of the  Downton Abbey movie.  While the characters are fictional,  the British setting has provided lessons in history and culture before, during, and after World War I.  The Crawley family has become like our family as we’ve followed their joys and sorrows. 
     The costuming has presented  a beautiful array of the era’s fashions.  We’ve indulged in seeing tweed riding outfits for a fox hunt, a fur trimmed blue velvet coat, stunning jewelry, feathered hats, men’s dinner jackets, beaded wedding gowns, and  jeweled headbands. Clothing was wrapped in strict protocols and not to be violated. For example, when a male character showed up for dinner in a white, rather than black formal bow tie, guests reactions amounted to a small scandal.     
     The elaborate Edwardian era fashions demanded  staff who helped  dress and undress  the gentry. It’s said that women in an opulent world like Downton wore as many as seven different outfits a day.  It’s astounding to think  about the time and  help it took to rotate the appropriate outfits whether going on a fox hunt, high tea, church , or a festive ball.  Fashion held a prominent place in  society and governed behavior in many ways.
     Our clothing as Christians is important too but it’s clothing of a spiritual nature.  Colossians 3:12-14 describes the kind of clothing we are to don  each morning.  “Therefore, as God’s  chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. …and of  all these virtues, put on love which binds them all together in perfect unity."
     The clothing of character, compassion, and kindness is clothing that carries far deeper meaning than outward fashions. It’s the clothing that portrays the loving  character of our Lord and our part in allowing His love to shine on others around us.

Look into the Broken Pieces

    My husband and I are vacationing for a few days at one of our favorite South Carolina beaches.  We enjoy walking, feeling the gentle breeze,  and deeply breathing in the fresh, salty air. 
      This section of beach is not a great one for finding beautiful shells though. By the time they reach the shoreline, they are battered and broken into small pieces. Then every once in a while, a whole shell, often a small one, shows up in the middle of the broken  pieces. Walking along this morning, we found many sections of broken shells.
     My husband commented, “Look into the broken pieces.  We may find something of value.“ And there, in the middle of shattered shells, he picked up a small, yet whole shell.
     It wasn’t an impressive shell, yet finding it among an entirely broken array of shells, it seemed to stand out saying, “Look. I made it.”
     And therein is a lesson. Sometimes our lives are battered and broken by waves that are too big to handle.  We wonder, “Will we make it? How will I get through this?”  It’s at those times that even the smallest rays of light or smallest word of encouragement or help, make a huge difference. The good word of a friend. A bible verse. A tiny “I love you” gift.  A telephone call or email.  A small answer to prayer that helps us hold on as we wait in hope for bigger answers.
     Here’s a verse today that will help you hold on: “For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end.” Hebrews 3:14
     Now...look for the small, whole shells of encouragement amidst any broken pieces of your life. Hold on! You will make it!

TRANSFORMATION-Singing While Shackled

If we want to glean encouragement from a transformative moment, Acts 16: 23-37 is the place to go. Paul and Silas are highlighted as exam...