We Gather Together – Thanksgiving 2016

After a year of tremendous division and fear in our country, we need Thanksgiving more than ever. As I thought about giving thanks today, I couldn’t stop singing the classic hymn We Gather Together.

The lyrics seem extra poignant. Maybe, I’ve never really paid attention to them before, but they drew me in today.

We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing;
He chastens and hastens His will to make known;
The wicked oppressing now cease from distressing;
Sing praises to His Name; He forgets not His own.

Not only is gathering important as friends and family, but especially as Christians for fellowship. Living separate from the world but in it, can be lonely. We gather together to encourage and be encouraged, reminded that we need not fear because we belong to the Lord.

Hebrews 10:25 (NASB) 25 not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.
We gather together for fellowship and encouragement, remembering to Whom we belong. #Thankful Click To Tweet

I love how the hymn discusses a body of believers gathering to seek His blessing, His chastening.

Chastening is God’s correction of the sin in our lives. And it is a blessing, He corrects our steps, sets us right. I’m not always grateful for the correction in the moment, but I’m learning to see it correctly.

God promises us He reproves whom He loves.

Discipline isn’t punishment, it’s guidance. When I punish my daughter, it’s never vindictive. I want her to learn, grow, mature so that she’ll be prepared for obstacles to come.

God chastens & reproves those He loves. It is part of His blessings for us. Click To Tweet
Revelation 3:19 19 Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.

In the hard times, I’ve learned to seek His face. When I hit a wall in a friendship, my marriage, or parenting, I’ve learned to search out God’s will, even if it means I must change.

Beside us to guide us, our God with us joining,
Ordaining, maintaining His kingdom divine;
So from the beginning the fight we were winning;
Thou, Lord, were at our side, all glory be Thine!

After a year of tremendous division, we need Thanksgiving more than ever & the simple words of the hymn We Gather Together create such a beautiful picture.

I think about all the small ways God ordained my every step this year. The devotionals I read that challenged and convicted me at just the right moment, the lessons I learned at exactly the time I needed them.

I’ve faced some heartbreaking moments this year. But God orchestrated my paths to and through them. He stood by my side through it all. His picture is an eternal one.
I am especially grateful for the way His word is always relevant for me, everyday.
Today’s daily passage was Revelation 3 which reflects the hymn I had already been singing and writing about.
Revelation 3:10 10 Because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth.

We all do extol Thee, Thou Leader triumphant,
And pray that Thou still our Defender will be;
Let Thy congregation escape tribulation;
Thy Name be ever praised! O Lord, make us free!

We lift up His name in praises today, seeing His leadership and dominion, asking for Him to defend us against the tribulations of the world.

What tremendous safety we have in Him.

And much like the company that shared our feast today, God promises His great desire for communion with us.

Revelation 3:20 20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.

I imagined the Lord sharing my table today, seeing Him through the blessings of friends who joined our celebration because of providential happenings, and know God is present in our thanksgiving as we gather together.

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The Election is Over. What should Americans do now?

Election season has never felt quite so divisive as it did this year. The entire country is so desperately polarized. The despair and anger and vitriol are palpable. Our country is at tremendous risk of destruction from within.

What should Americans do now?

If you are a reasonable, intelligent American, I’m talking with you; I’m walking with you. We need to act like we are reasonable and intelligent more now than ever.

I’m not seeing very many reasonable, intelligent responses following the election.

As Christians, we faced an impossible decision. As Americans, we faced a truly painful one. But we GET to choose how we act today.

election-is-over-what-should-americans-do

Maybe, today we can stop focusing on the figureheads and start focusing on the issues.

The election might be over, but the work has just started.

America needs Conflict Resolution 101.

We are looking at the same picture, but seeing a totally different image. But really, we’re both looking at the same America, so the disconnect is our own perspective, biases, and opinions.

The election's over. What should Americans do now? America needs Conflict Resolution 101 Click To Tweet

Find common ground.

We all want America to be the great nation we believe she used to be. Even if we disagree on how, we should be able to agree on some core ideas.

We all want a safe country in which every citizen has the means and ability to provide for his/her family, a nation in which every person’s rights are equal under the law, with a strong economy and opportunity for all different types of people.

But how do we get there from here?

Debate ideas, not each other.

We might disagree on the details, but we have to start with seeing the humanity in each of us. Click To Tweet

Be more respectful and kind than expected. No one can hear your ideas over your shouting.

Philippians 2:3 ESV Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.

When we count others more significantly than ourselves, we seek to understand, not wound.

Healing from this election starts with listening.

Conflict resolution teaches we have to understand the other side before we can resolve the conflict.

Listen to the heart of your opposition. What are they really saying?

Research both sides of an issue – go back to debate club basics and be able to really see both sides. When we do that, we often realize we’re not so far apart.

Today, I had a conversation with an LGBT woman who was angry, but as we exchanged opinions I heard her fear. She’s afraid for her marriage and her family. She is afraid of being mistreated.

As a Christian woman in an increasingly unChristian society, I understand that fear. How can I respond in a way that demonstrates I love her even if we disagree on specific policies?

Refuse to take the bait.

This one is personally challenging. And I’m not good at ignoring the need to correct or comment. But I’m learning.

If I can’t speak in love or within a relationship with someone, I may do more harm than good, if I speak at all.

Doesn't matter which side you're on, when you wound with your words, America can never heal. Click To Tweet

Anger and arguing often comes from a place of fear.

We Christians need to be examples of how not to let fear dictate our actions. We have an eternal promise. We’re not demonstrating our trust in our Heavenly Father if we are reacting in fear.

Matthew 6:34 ESV  “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

Today, nothing has changed. Let’s not borrow trouble. Decisions and change take time. Hopefully, such a close election and balanced legislature will hopefully, bring great discussion and compromise.

And we LOVE.

John 15:12 ESV  “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.

They will know we are Christians by our love, not our political affiliations, not our bumper stickers or ballots.

We let humility and grace be our watchwords going forward. We seek solutions to problems, not for people.

We are all Americans. Let’s start there.

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What about when God plans disaster?

Is the current state of America scaring the pants off you?

I was scanning the scripture for tonight’s Praying the Scripture challenge and I had to write this quick commentary. I know I won’t do it justice, so please hear my heart.

Tonight at 9 pm EST, we are dropping to our collective knees to pray for America. If you are joining the praying scripture challenge, we’re reading Jeremiah 29-30 tonight and two chapters a night through Nov. 8.

I could spend a week in Jeremiah 29, but I want to ask you to think about this passage as we Christians are are facing the most despicable election I think America has ever seen.

We may have had worse candidates, but never before have we KNOWN all the facts and said, ah, heck with it, elect these criminals!

Americans are wringing our hands, wondering what to do, but in a completely unpopular position, I’m asking what if this disaster is part of God’s plan?

What if this disaster is part of God’s plan?

Really – this is going to be a bitter pill to swallow, but Jeremiah spent the ENTIRE book warning Israel that God was going to destroy them if they didn’t repent and turn from sin.

False prophets kept telling the people not to worry, God isn’t going to destroy us. He wouldn’t do that! He is a loving God.

And time and time again, God sent Jeremiah to tell the people, Yes, I love you enough to get your attention and correct you.

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Israel didn’t listen. Judah didn’t listen. America isn’t listening.

Culturally, we’re using our feelings to decide what is true instead of the immutable truths of God’s word.

Are we lost? We're using feelings to decide what's true instead of God's word. Seek His face. Click To Tweet

I know personally, the growth in my spiritual walk, the depth of my faith, has come in the times of suffering, not the times of ease or plenty.

Maybe God is calling America to grow in this disaster.

Jeremiah 29: 11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Many quote this verse from Jeremiah, but few include the context.

This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper  .   .   . 10 This is what the Lord says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place. 

In verses 4-10, God promises He has a plan, but it includes 70 years of exile.

God's plan might include disaster, but it also includes redemption if we repent and turn. Click To Tweet

Christians often cling to Jeremiah 29:11 as if it promises easy lives. But nothing could be farther from the truth, because God’s plan is measured in eternity, not just worldly blessings. His plan is to redeem as many of us as will turn to Him for eternity.

Even as destruction rained down on His chosen people, God promised He was with them in exile, and that He had planned all this for their redemption, not that they wouldn’t suffer.

Once, His people had been in captivity for 70 years,  and were ready to repent and turn . . .

Jeremiah 29:12-14(ESV)

12 Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. 13 You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.

God planned the redemption even before the disaster struck, sent messengers begging the people to listen so the whole mess could be avoided. They stubbornly didn’t want to listen or change.

Neither do we. America is stubbornly clinging to our own understanding.

But God is sending people to warn us, just like Jeremiah, think Matt Walsh, Shane Idleman, Francis Chan.

If we don’t listen now, the disaster may be necessary to get our attention.

Thinking in parenting terms – “Honey, don’t stand on that chair.”

“I said, Don’t stand on that chair! You are going to fall and get hurt!”

I don’t want her to fall. I want her to stop standing on the chair. But I know what I’ll do when she falls.

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Emergency Call to Action – Please Pray Jeremiah with Me

Please Pray – Our nation is in a state of emergency. We face, perhaps, the most pivotal moment in our nation’s trajectory. And it all seems like it is spinning out of control.

I am completely at a loss and grieved deeply by the state of America.

Not just because of these two presidential candidates who are decidedly unpresidential, but because our nation is so wholly corrupt. We have, as a people, turned from God and pursued our own desires.

And through our rejection of our Heavenly Father, we have elected corruption and selfishness in the government, chosen it for our entertainment, invited it into our schools.

So what do we DO?!?

Many of my Christian friends are with me, throwing our hands up, desperately answering, I don’t know!

Then, I saw this clipping circulating on Facebook asking us to please pray together every night for one minute at 8 p.m. Central/9 p.m. EST as a collective body of believers for America.

Please pray with me for America. We are in a state of emergency that needs real intercession. Join me every night.

And I felt God reminding me to only take responsibility for my obedience, not the weight of the world. Responsibility for the direction of our nation, of our world, is truly His.

Do you have one minute a day to join me? #PleasePray the scriptures thru Nov. 8th Click To Tweet

All I can do is get on my knees and humbly ask God to fix this mess we’re in, repent of my sins and seek His face.

More than ever, I am aware of the powerful access to God we have in prayer. Many Christians of our generation do not fully understand this spiritual weapon. We’ve been raised in an era of absolute self-reliance and concrete thought.

But when we focus only on what we can see, prayer can seem like empty words; however, God’s word is full of promises concerning prayer and His word does not return void.

Isaiah 55:11 ESV / So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

Many times in the Old Testament, God’s judgment was changed through prayer. Jesus rebuked demons, clearly instructing the disciples in the power of prayer and fasting.

Reading John 17, realizing that Jesus was praying for ME is such a humbling experience.

Jesus prayed, and He prayed for US.

Jesus prayed for those God gave Him to be delivered from evil though we won’t be removed from the world. He prayed that we would be ONE as believers. Jesus prayed our Father would sanctify us and that His love would be in us so we can make Him known to the world.

America has lost its way as the shining light to the world. We are not unified as one body of believers, but divided by denominations and preferences that we let take priority over God’s truths and grace.

If we expect God to heal our nation, we have to go to him.

Please Pray - Our nation is in a state of emergency. We face, perhaps, the most pivotal moment in our nation's trajectory. And it all seems like it is spinning out of control.

John 16:23 ESV / Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you.

So I am praying nightly for America, trusting in God’s will, because I know He is weaving an eternal tapestry far beyond my ability to grasp.

Ephesians 1:10 ESV / As a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

But sometimes, especially when something is really important, I struggle to find the right words, even words to pray.

Then, providentially, my bible reading plan has me in Jeremiah for the rest of this month and into November.

As I listen to the words of God calling to His people who are so far from Him, so crooked and wicked in their ways, I can’t help but recognize America in these words.

Please Pray - Our nation is in a state of emergency. We face, perhaps, the most pivotal moment in our nation's trajectory. And it all seems like it is spinning out of control.

I can’t explain it, but I feel this intense tugging to forget praying my words or my ideas and simply pray God’s words back to Him. I even heard a reminder of this message this week about the power of praying the scriptures.

So last night, I fell on my face, with my Bible open to Jeremiah and began to pray portions of the verses that were ministering to my heart.

Lord, you knew me before you formed me in my mother’s womb, but I do not know how to speak as I am still such a child, put your words in my mouth. We have forsaken You, and worshiped the works of our own hands. Make us today as a fortified city, that our enemies will not overcome us, for You are with us. We have walked after emptiness and became empty. You brought us to a fruitful land that we defiled and made an abomination. Your people have changed Your glory for that which does not profit. We have done this to ourselves by forsaking the Lord our God.  Our wickedness will correct us. O let our generation, heed the word of the Lord. In Jesus’ name, Amen (excerpted from Jeremiah 1:4-9, 18-19; 2:5, 7, 11, 17, 19,31 ESV using first person pronouns)

Who wins the election isn’t my concern. God will still be King. But God will change us in these prayers. He will work in our hearts and guide our steps. And He may have mercy on America yet.

I won't tell you who to vote for, but I can tell you who wins. #GodisKing #PleasePray with me. Click To Tweet
Please pray, we have 25 nights left to pray before we have a new President.

I plan to pray portions of Jeremiah every night. If we pray the above prayer tonight and select verses from chapters 3-4, then just two chapters a night through November 8, you can pray through the entire book of Jeremiah before the election is over, even as the votes are counted.

We need God to convict this nation of our collective sins and lead us to repentance. I am praying for Him to open the gates of Heaven, flooding us with the power of the Holy Spirit, to draw our people back to Him. I am praying for wisdom and clarity so that I know how to be faithful where God has called me to act.

Please pray with me each night. Set an alarm on your phone.

Pray a verse or two from Jeremiah, pray a psalm, or simply call out to God. Some of the most powerful prayers have no earthly words.

Please share this prayer challenge so we can collectively beseech God to intercede for America.

1 Corinthians 12:7 ESV / To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.

When we repent and pray, the Holy Spirit can work mightily in us for the common good. America has never needed it more.

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For some deeper understanding about this topic, I would send you to this timely sermon by one of the most anointed preachers today. This sermon has so many truths for us as believers and Americans.

Life isn’t Fair, Broken Balloons, and a Good Father

“Life isn’t fair!” she sobbed from the backseat, holding her broken balloon. “I wanted to show my daddy!”

And in that moment my stifling hot minivan became a place of ministry to both of us.

We were sitting in the van following PWOC, a wonderful military related fellowship and bible study program.

They have fantastic childcare with bible lessons for our children. I’m not sure what part the balloons played in their lesson, but my sweet girl had been SO excited to show me her ‘hugantic’ balloon.

She blew it up all by herself and had the biggest balloon in her class!

What she couldn’t understand was how inflating her balloon to that size had weakened its structure. Sure enough, moments after getting seated, a tiny hole appeared and then another, and the balloon began to deflate before her eyes.

“Why did MY balloon break? The other kids’ balloons didn’t break!” She wailed.

In a way that only a young child’s heart can, it broke with disappointment. Tears poured down her cheeks and she shook with sobs. She held the tiny balloon corpse in her palm as if begging me to resuscitate it.

Despite being unable to perform balloon CPR, I had such compassion for her broken heart. I immediately remembered a post from Minivan Ministries about teaching our children to bring their needs to God in prayer.

So I told her to just start praying. Talk to God like He is right here with us. Tell Him how you feel and ask Him to help you. With her tiny little voice still breaking between shallow breaths and sobs, she prayed.

"Life isn't fair!" she sobbed from the backseat, holding her broken balloon. "I wanted to show my daddy!" And in that moment my minivan became a place of ministry to both of us.

“Dear God, I am really disappointed. I wanted to show my daddy my balloon and it broke. And it isn’t fair. Please help me get my feelings under control. I am so sad.”

A few moments later, “Mom, it didn’t work!” She said, still clearly upset.

Honey, you can’t pray like it’s magic. You have to let God work in your heart. Sometimes, he doesn’t change the situation, but changes us in it.

Prayer doesn't work like magic. Sometimes God doesn't change the situation, but changes us. Click To Tweet
“But life isn’t fair,” she said again.

and I said, “You’re right. It isn’t. And aren’t we so grateful for that?”

What?

All the kids got balloons. Some kids had balloons that were perfectly inflated. A few balloons had already popped explosively. Some kids had sad, little, barely inflated balloons. One tiny girl adorably was still walking around sputtering with all her might into a stubbornly flat balloon. No two were the same.

And I immediately saw myself.

Life isn’t fair! Why don’t I have the perfect house, family, body, life?

We all get balloons, but they aren’t the same because we all make different choices and because God has different plans for each of us.

My imperfect body has taught me humility. I’ve learned find my comfort and identity in Christ alone. My imperfect house has reminded me that my eternal home is the one I need to focus on. My imperfect family has reminded me how much I have still to learn about grace and how to love.

I was reminded how wonderful it is that life isn’t fair.

How wonderful it is that life isn't fair, that God extends His grace and love when we don't deserve them. Click To Tweet

I began the drive home and explained,

Oh, my sweet love, we celebrate that life isn’t fair because Jesus paid our price. God’s grace and forgiveness are things we don’t deserve because of our sin, and yet He gives them freely because of His great love for us.

As we talked, I could hear the tone in her voice change. Her disappointment faded, and she realized that it wasn’t truly the end of the world.

But that wasn’t the end of the story either.

I texted my husband about how disappointed she had been about showing him her HUGE balloon. He was going to be home after she went to bed, and I wanted to share this bittersweet moment with him.

When he did get home, he barely said hello, rushing past me towards her room. A few minutes later, he came out smiling.

“What did you do?” I asked.

“I bought her a jumbo balloon. She just finished blowing it up.”

And it’s ORANGE! she shouted from her room. Orange is her favorite color.

What a good father!

Minutes before closing, after a very long day, he raced into our local store to buy her a balloon.

I cannot tell you how that moment ministered to my heart. I saw God working in her life, giving her back a moment she lost (and a new balloon), answering her minivan prayers through her dad.

Watching my husband love her like that was a gift from my Father for me because I pray over their sweet relationship.

If this is how a human father loves his children, how much more will He have good gifts for us! Click To Tweet

I also heard God reminding me if this is how a human father loves his children, how much more will He have good gifts for us.

Matthew 7:11 ESV / If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!

And I’m so grateful that life isn’t fair.

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