Tuesday, November 29, 2011

#224 Good News Bad News

Has anyone ever come to you with the question, "What do you want first? The good news or the bad news?" Me? I choose to hear the bad news first, thinking that when I hear the good, it will take the sting out of the bad.

Around 700 B.C., the prophet Isaiah couldn't wait to share good news. 

Characteristically, people ran from Isaiah, because if he didn't have bad news, he'd have no news at all. In sharp contrast to warning words of coming judgment and doom, the prophet had news that when it came to pass, would change the course of history forever.

"A child has been born for us.

We have been given a son

who will be our ruler.

His names will be

Wonderful Advisor

and Mighty God,

Eternal Father

and Prince of Peace."

Isaiah 9:6 CEV

Fast forward about 700 years. In Bethlehem Ephrathah, small among the clans of Judah, in the fullness of time, wrapped in cloths and placed in a manger, the child, the son, the ruler, the One of whom the prophets spoke, was come into our world.

That's the good news.

"He was in the world, and though the world was made through Him, the world did not recognize Him. He came to that which was His own, but His own did not receive Him."
John 1: 10-11 

That, my friend, is the bad news.

I don't know if reading those words had any effect on you, but they never fail to take my breath away, no matter how many times I've read them. To me, they are the saddest words in all of holy Scripture.

The long awaited, the One to whom every small letter and stroke of pen pointed, the vision of every prophet's dream and sound of voice, the light, the life, came into the world flesh, tabernacled among men, and they neither recognized nor received Him.  

Fast forward again. A little over two thousand years.

Do we recognize Christ in Christmas?

Do we recognize Him at all?

Do we recognize Him in every rising and setting of the sun? Hear Him in a child's laughter? Smell His fragrance on a newborn baby's skin? Behold Him in the strength of a widow, wife of 50 years, her first Christmas without? 

Do we recognize Him in a drop of rain that yields yellow and pink and purple springs? Do we see Him in the snowflake, uniquely different from every other? Do we bow to the Giver when we see breath in cold winter air? 

Does the bell peal for Him? Do the carols sing of Him?

He is the face of hunger, the parch of thirst. He is the stranger and the naked. He is the sick. He is the lonely. He is the imprisoned. 

Do you recognize Him?

Are you even looking?

Bows and boxes. Malls and madness. Debt and delirium. 

Do we know it's Christmas time at all?

He is in the world. A world that doesn't recognize Him.

That which is His own, doesn't receive Him.

Bad news for certain.


"Behold, I am coming soon."
(Revelation 22: 7, 12, 20)

Then, Kyrios, the name above every name, will fell every knee to the ground, in heaven, on earth and under the earth. Every tongue will confess that Jesus, the  Christ is the Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

That is Good News!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

#223 One More Thanksgiving Post

What can I say about Thanksgiving that hasn't been said a thousand times on Facebook and Twitter and all over the blogosphere during the last two weeks?

I must confess that I'm cheating today. This post is an edited version of one that I wrote in 2005, when "Tuesdays with Jesus" first began. I admit that I have used it on some other Thanksgiving weeks since then.

I repent.

Many of you have never seen this post, and for those of you who have, I believe that the message is still as sweet for this very holiday week. Psalm 98 was my inspiration, and I would encourage you to stop what you're doing and read those words before you continue. Won't you please?       

How typical is it to write about Thanksgiving this week? It doesn't surprise you, does it? I think that you may find what you are about to read is a little different. Are you up for a challenge?

The Lord asked me to do something this week that is quite out of the ordinary, and I invite you to accept the challenge with me. From today until next Saturday evening, give thanks. "Easy enough", you say. No, I mean ONLY give thanks. Don't ASK God for anything - ONLY give thanks.

Verse 1 of this psalm says, "Sing to the Lord a new song". The "songs" we typically sing are full of  requests and petitions to God. I would guess that your "asking" time outweighs your praising and thanking time, when you go to God in prayer. Let's sing a new song - one of ONLY giving thanks. No whining, no complaining, no begging, no asking - ONLY thanks!

Do you believe that your Heavenly Father knows everything you need before you ask Him (Matthew 6:8)? Let me assure you that just because you aren't asking for a few days, doesn't mean that God will not be aware of your needs. He's not going to say, "Gee, I haven't heard any requests from Sally and Joe today - I wonder what's going on; I wonder what they need?" How absurd! Your Father knows! Yes, we are told to pray, but I believe that it will be refreshing and pleasing to God's ears to hear nothing but our heartfelt thanks for a few days.

We can thank Him because He has done marvelous things (v.1). His right hand and holy arm have worked salvation for Him (v. 1b). He is righteous (v. 2). He makes His love and faithfulness known to all the ends of the earth (v. 3). He is our King (v. 6). He is the judge who will judge in righteousness and equity (v. 9). He forgives all your sins, heals all your diseases, redeems your life from the pit, crowns you with love and compassion, and satisfies your desires with good things (Psalm 103: 1-5).

Thank Him - Praise Him!!

When I'm talking thanks, friend, I'm talking real thanks. Look at the commands of Psalm 98. Verse 4a says, "Shout". To "shout"is to utter a sudden loud cry. "Burst into jubilant song with music". (v. 4b) "Bursting" is like an explosion - "jubilant" is rejoicing in triumph. Explode into triumphant rejoicing over your God!

Sing - shout for joy (v. 6)! When David brought the Ark of the Lord back to Jerusalem, he was leaping and dancing before the Lord to the point that the Bible says his wife despised him. He told her, "I will celebrate before the Lord. I will become even more undignified than this" (2 Samuel Ch. 6:16,21-22).

The sea, the mountains, the rivers, the whole world, is commanded to sing before the Lord (Psalm 98: vs. 7-9). Jesus said that if the people didn't cry out, "the stones will cry out" (Luke 19:40).  

Don't be put to shame by the rocks!

The praise and thanksgiving set forth in God's word is not quiet, reserved, or afraid of what other people think about it.

It is shouting, dancing, joyful music, and exuberant praise to the One who is worthy!

Not only will days of only thanksgiving be pleasing to the Lord, but I believe that it will be beneficial to us as well.

Try something for me. Say your name five times in your head. Now try and think about your address while still thinking your name. Can't do it, can you? We can't think about two things at the same time! While thanking God, we cannot worry. While expressing thanks, we cannot complain. We can't fret. We can't murmur or grumble. We can't work out our own plans to take care of our problems.

There's freedom in the midst of the thanksgiving!

I believe that our joy will increase and overflow as we thank. If we really concentrate on what we have been given, we will become joyful. Our focus will shift from what we don't have, to "every good and perfect gift" that God has given us (James 1:17).

You may be thinking that you don't have much to be thankful for today. Oh, my friend, you do! Start with your spiritual blessings; the Cross, salvation, God's love for you. His faithfulness, His mercy and compassion. The forgiveness of all of your sins. The Blessed Holy Spirit living on the inside of you. If you are reading this right now, I assume that you have been blessed with a roof over your head, clothes on your back, and food to nourish your body. I praise God each morning for eyes that see, ears that hear, lips that speak, and a body that moves. Each breath, each heartbeat - a gift from God.

Do you hate doing laundry? Thank God for a husband and children who wear those clothes and that you have the means to buy them. Do you hate house cleaning? Thank Him for providing shelter. Do you hate your job? Please don't!! Thank Him that you have one -- so many do not! You get the point...

You might say, "But Donna, you just don't know what I'm going through right now. It's so hard to be thankful." The Bible tells us to "give thanks in all circumstances" (1 Thessalonians 5:18). All -- not some. Even in bad situations we can thank Him because "in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28). Thank Him because "the testing of your faith is developing perseverance (patience). When perseverance has finished it's work you will be mature, complete, not lacking anything" (James 1: 3-4). Maybe you can't see the end from the beginning today? Thank God for teaching you how to trust Him!!

Today is Sunday. Won't you join me for the next five days on this journey of total thankfulness? It won't be easy, I assure you. We're not used to it. That old, ugly father of lies may even put on a stronger attack. Let me make a few suggestions:

When you have a thought or a  situation that would cause you to worry or fret or complain, just say "Jesus". There is power in that name.

Say, "Jesus" and then begin to thank Him, once again.

If you are in a prayer group this week, dare to be different - tell the others that you're doing nothing this week but thanking Him. Who knows? It may catch on....Hallelujah!

Thank Him for what He WILL do, ahead of time, "calling things that are not as though they were (Romans 4:17). Thank Him for that healed marriage. Thank Him for that saved son or daughter. Thank Him for the provision He is sending...right now!

Put your laundry list of requests in your pocket, immerse yourself in the Word, and see all His benefits (Psalm 103:2). Shout for joy even if you don't feel like it. Be undignified! Let "Thank you Jesus!" continually be in your mouth! Then go to worship Him on Sunday morning. Praise, sing, dance, if you're not embarrassed. You will have "joy unspeakable and full of glory" (1 Peter 1:8).

I believe that God is going to do some mighty things in our lives this week. I really do. Won't you try it with me?

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving Day.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

September Morn Remembering Noah

As I fill the bird feeder with seed and pick cherry tomatoes off the vine, the air feels the same. It's funny how a chill in the air, but the promise of a beautiful fall day, can take you back. It feels the same. The same as that last September morn.

I pull my morning jacket close around me and remember. That day held such promise and hope. Standing on a balcony, telling my sweet girl, "Go have yourself a baby."  A bassinet and a welcome home sign were waiting. I can feel it all, today, on this September morn.

Hours later, a phone call. A weeping doctor said that the baby died. Noah was gone.

My tears are flowing freely now. I couldn't cry then. I couldn't cry for days.

I've never felt so helpless in all of my life.

Today I can feel it all. I relive it. The events. Minute by minute. Hour by hour. The weight of it threatens to blanket the sun that is rising in the east.

But the sun rises. Nevertheless. It has risen and set for the last 365 days. The days since that September morn. The days where we were sure that the sun would never shine again.

The only thing that would "never be", was that we would never, ever, be the same.

Maybe that's why things have just seemed not right this week. Just off kilter.

Geese fly overhead in V-formation. They feel it. They know the winter is coming. Their senses warn them. They are graciously allowed to fly away. They won't return until it's over.

Oh, to be one with them! To sense the coming cold and bitter winds, and take flight. To miss the frigid. To avoid the harsh. To bask in warm sunshine south, and not come back until it's over. If I could have...

Instead, He makes us stay. We stay and we cry and we bleed and we scream and we hurt and we endure and we lean and we trust, and we don't trust. We believe! Forgive our unbelief!

I am hiding. I am under the shadow of His wings. He holds me close and whispers in my ear through the words of this morning's devotional.

A verse that He gave me years ago for Noah's mom. Now He reminds me. For Noah.

"Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?" (John 11: 40)

It took my breath away.

While we would love to be planning a 1st birthday party this week. While Noah's mom and dad would rather have held a breathing baby in their arms. While Gigi would've loved to add Hot Wheels to the toy box and watch army men decapitate Barbie dolls. All the while glory shines.

Glory is flesh and blood having close encounters with the Living God. Growing closer to Him by watching Noah's parents. A village in Uganda thriving because of a well bearing Noah's name. Drinking not only clean, physical water, but learning of the "Living Water" that is Christ Jesus. Holden Uganda. Hope Mommies. Tragedy that points folk to triumph that is possible only in Him. Learning what strength and provision and grace that is amazing really means. Enduring. Enduring well. Having this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God, and not from us. Seeing God in a way that could never have been possible without the horrific.

So many are still seeking the purpose and plan for their lives. Our sweet Noah fulfilled his purpose and the plan God had for his life without ever breathing earth's air. Now He resides with our Savior. A job well done, good and faithful servant. He gave his life for eternal purposes, just like his Jesus. He is more like Him than we can ever hope to be. He sees His face. He knows what it feels like to be held in the warm embrace of the everlasting arms.

Would I take that from Noah...even if I could?

I walk by faith and not by sight.

Aside from Christ, I have never, ever loved anyone that I cannot see, more than my grandson, Noah Daniel Mahalak.

September Mornings Still Can Make Me Feel That Way!

Happy First Birthday, Mister Man! You are a beautiful, beautiful boy!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

#222 "Are They Amazed?"

If you browse through the Gospel pages of my old and worn-torn Bible, you will notice that over the years I have circled every instance where Scripture says that someone, or a group of someones, was "amazed" by Jesus. I've never taken the time to count, but there are more than a few. 

My morning readings this month have been from the book of Acts, and I'm excited that my church is also doing a series on this same book. As I was reading from chapter three a week or two ago, I came upon a verse at the end of a story where Peter and John had healed a lame man who used to sit at the gate called Beautiful. (Acts 3: 1-10) This man was now walking and jumping and praising God. This man who used to sit at the gate because he could do nothing more. This man, who by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, danced. The Scripture says that all who saw "were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him."

Jesus amazed people. His life and miracles amazed the crowds, the religious leaders, and the government rulers. Now "all the people" were amazed at the acts of His apostles and I take liberty to say, they were amazed at the apostles themselves.

Two thousand years later, are we, His apostles and disciples, amazing anyone?

Are we amazing them with our hypocrisy?

Are we amazing them with our unbelief ?

Are our lives indistinguishable from the value system of this world?

Are we more about what we are against, rather than what we are for?


Are we amazing them with the way that we love?
Are we amazing them with the way that we give?
Are we amazing them with the way we love our husbands, raise our children, handle our finances, and conduct our lives?
Are we amazing them with the way we forgive? 

The way we sacrifice?

The way we stand strong in the storms of life, full of faith and unwavering belief?

Are we more about what we are for, rather than what we are against?

Acting justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with our God.   (Micah 6: 8)

The suffix "-ians" means "belonging to the party of." 

Christ is the Anointed One and the Messiah. 

Put together, the word "Christian" means "belonging to the party of Christ, Anointed One and Messiah."

"I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ." Gandhi

Lord, let it not be so!
Two thousand years later, Christ is still amazing. He continues to amaze people every day. 
We, His followers, should be amazing too.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

#221 "Divine Discontent"

I wrote a book, but I'm not a famous author.

I speak messages, but I'm not a famous "speaker."

I write words on a blog, but I'm not really a "blogger."

I don't know a famous musician, singer/songwriter.

I haven't traveled around the world to do mission work.

I can write. I can speak. I can blog. I can do good work. But at the age of 54, I am seeking. I'm still trying to figure it all out. I've got the "Who Am I?" question pretty down pat. Who I am in Christ, that is. That was no small feat, let me tell you.
I've learned to separate my "who" from my "do." It's that "do" part that's got me stumped.

It's hard to see the young women, seemingly "getting it" at such an early age. Oh, how I wish I had "gotten it" way back then. I would have been more committed. I would have been more forceful. I would have invested more. I would've let dishes pile and dust bunnies frolic, to make way for more of the important, the eternal, the best. I've reconciled all of that now too. Can't go back. Can't change a thing.

But God...

Can restore the years that the locusts have eaten.

Can redeem my stupidity, my mistakes, my straddling the fence.

Can make beautiful things from the ashes of my ignorance.

But what about now? The here and now.

I convinced myself that I am in a season of rest. Ceasing from all the "do's" of late, it would appear that I am resting from the work. A book published. A speaking engagement done. Family life calmer now.

Nothing calm about what I'm feeling inside. I want more. I want to be closer. I have a longing that I cannot put into words. As the deer pants.

"Divine Discontent", my friend Phillis used to call it. Ya, that's it.

Asking, seeking, knocking. Tears streaming. Telling God, "You know what I mean."

Even when I don't know what I mean.

Let His Holy Spirit pray with all manner of groaning.

Maybe the longing itself is the answer to prayer.

Maybe the longing is really the beginning.

But the beginning of what?

Ah. That's the hard part. The. Beginning. Of. What.

He made promises to me. Will He be like a deceptive brook, like a spring that fails?

He and I have a covenant, don't we? I cut my life in two and arranged the halves. The day He passed between the pieces and made a promise.

I've seen it from a distance. I've tasted a bit. I've been close enough to grasp, but never close enough to apprehend.

As best as this human brain can comprehend, I feel like I know.

So I make my way up Mount Moriah. My Isaac's bundled in my arms. My hands that write. My lips that speak. My heart that longs. Hopes. Dreams. Expectations. Even those I love so dearly. 

With every step, with every breath, saying, "Even if He takes this, He will provide."

I arrange it all on the altar. A divine exchange.

With the One who gave it all to me in the first.

It was never mine to begin with. So I give it back to Him.

My hand raised, knife in my grip. Perhaps He will stay my hand.

If I do not withhold from Him, my Isaacs.

Perhaps not.

But if He takes them from me, I will still say, "The Lord will provide."

God Himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering.

God Himself DID provide the LAMB for the burnt offering.

Is that not what all of my soul-seeking has been looking for all along?

"If you try to save your life, you will lose it. But if you give it up for me, you will surely find it."
(Matthew 10: 39 CEV)