Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Fourteen Good Reads From 2014

More than the actual act of tuning out the world and getting lost in the pages of a thought-provoking book, I love discovering new authors. Real people with real opinions and real perspectives on real life. I've laughed and cried with these men and women and by the time I turned the last page, I learned something new... about this life and about myself.  No, reading is not a careless thing to pass the time.  It is a sacred experience.
Today I'm sharing my top fourteen reads from 2014.







Spiritual Growth



Sunday, December 28, 2014

7 Dynamic Reasons To Keep Dreaming in 2015

Looking back at 2014, I remember the post that kicked off this year, the one where I spoke my dream aloud: “I want to write.”

And I still do. 

I want to use meaningful words to bring real hope to real people. That day I wrote about turning my husband’s neglected study into a writing space for me. And eleven months later, it is beautiful. My stack of books on writing and communicating has grown taller over the past year. Recycled frames hold people I love, words that inspire me, and goals I’ve made. The same man who gave up his room found a bright, bold rug for my birthday this summer to complete this space. Oh, and one weekend when I wasn’t home, he painted the walls the perfect shade of blue. I love my writing room.

I’ve taken tiny steps and giant leaps this year because of this dream. I’ve started meeting regularly with other writers. I’ve learned ways to communicate more effectively. I flew across the country all by myself to pitch to publishers the book I started writing two years ago. And some of those steps were really, really exciting, but a bunch of them were hard. One of the most difficult was calling myself a writer. As I sit here thinking about that dream, I’m surprised at the tears that come.

None of the passion has left, but time has left me feeling powerless.

I’ve buried the dream underneath disappointment, frustration, and the busyness of daily life. But there comes a time when we all need to pull out the dreams we’ve hidden away in the bottom desk drawer, blow the dust right off, and remember why we dreamed in the first place.

Maybe you didn’t begin 2014 with a dream. Maybe it was a prayer, a plea of sorts. Maybe you’ve been asking since 2012 and you wonder if God even hears you. I tend to focus on myself in these situations instead of God. Maybe that’s where the tears originate from- my insecurities, my failures, my rejection, my limitations, my questions, my fears, my weaknesses.

Dusting off dreams means shifting our focus from our own inability to the God who is truly able.

Here are seven dynamic reasons to ditch those self-inflicted feelings of powerlessness. Remembering that God is able just might be the secret to reviving our tired hearts. “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.” Ephesians 3:20 (NIV)

1. God is dependable.
In you our ancestors put their trust; they trusted and you delivered them.  Psalm 22:4

2. God is desirable.
What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.  Philippians 3:8

3. God is honorable.
Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; his greatness no one can fathom. Psalm 145:3

4. God is unstoppable.
Praise him for his acts of power; praise him for his surpassing greatness. Psalm 150:2

5. God is undeniable.
At the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Philippians 2:10-11

6. God is immovable.
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Hebrews 13:8

7. God is imperishable.
You, Lord, reign forever; your throne endures from generation to generation. Lamentations 5:19

Because of who God is, keep asking and keep dreaming.

If God’s ability rests in who He is, then His power is based on what He has accomplished. And here’s the really amazing part: God’s power is in us. Yes, inside us, and Paul says it’s already at work. The word ‘power,’ or dynamis in Greek, inspired Alfred Nobel, the Swedish chemist and engineer, to name his newly invented explosive “Dynamite” in 1867. Picture sticks of dynamite blasting through all the barriers that keep us from fully embracing our dreams.

When God’s power is unleashed, rocks move and the earth shakes. Matthew writes about such a time in his gospel. “There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it.” (Matthew 28:2) The earthquake didn’t move the rock; God’s power rolled that stone away and caused the earth to quake. And this same power raised a dead man to life.

I’m not saying if you just shift your perspective, all your dreams will come true and your prayers will be answered immediately. That theology would disregard the mysterious phenomenon known as God’s timing. Yeah, it’s His time we’re on, and while some days that seems incredibly frustrating, it’s actually for our good. Even Jesus had to wait three days in that tomb.

God always knew what would happen. Nothing and no one could stand in the way of His perfect plan. When Jesus walked out of that tomb, death and sin were defeated forever.  And that same power resides inside those who believe.

Because of the work of God’s power within you, keep praying and keep dreaming. 

Ephesians 3:20 is a beautiful praise offering to God. When Paul wrote it, he made sure to point out that not only is God able, He is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine. And it all revolves around the love of God. When God sent His Son, He could have chosen to demonstrate His power in a myriad of other ways, yet He chose a tiny, helpless baby who grew up to become a carpenter.  The Creator of the universe chose to display His power through Love.  And this is so crucial to understanding God’s power. 

Whatever you’re asking for, God wants to give you so much more, so keep praying.

Whatever you’re imagining, God has something far greater in mind, so keep dreaming.

Though my dream is still in the early stages, I’m reminded that 2014 also began with a prayer for a child. And not too far into the year, we thought that possibility was completely dead, even with medical intervention. Yet God wielded His power and shattered every doubt I’ve held tightly for the past eight years. And today I'm holding my sweet baby girl, a reminder of His goodness and faithfulness. I can’t deny this miracle that so clearly demonstrates the mighty, matchless power of my God. Who. Is. Able.

This beautiful praise song Paul penned reaches a glorious crescendo with this: ”Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20-21)

What were you praying for one year ago? What dreams were tiny seeds in your soul back at the start of 2014? Consider writing down your dreams for the New Year, or better yet, share them right here by leaving a comment. Let’s decide today to quit rehearsing all of our inabilities and start trusting the God who is able to accomplish His will in our lives.

May God Bless You Abundantly in 2015!
Love, Kelly

Friday, December 5, 2014

How To Breathe In Hope This Christmas Season

“Mommy, I don’t like Dark,” she says as she sinks down under three layers of covers.
“Me neither, Baby,” I admit.
“Mom?” she asks.
“Yeah?” I say. Her next question stirs something deep inside of me.
“Will you ask God to help me be brave?”
“Of course,” I answer, “God loves you and watches over you and protects you every night while you sleep.” She nods as a tired yawn escapes, and then we pray.
Every night it’s the same conversation, the same prayer before we turn off the lights. As her momma, my prayers sound a bit different, but deep down, I know they’re really the same.  When I’m uncertain, I find myself calling out to the God who helps me be brave just like her. But God wraps up courage in this unexpected package called hope, the antithesis of fear.  Tucked neatly into the Christmas story is a way we can all live with hope, even in the midst of real fear.

As I read Matthew chapter 1, I try real hard not to skim through the endless list of names I can’t pronounce that make up the royal lineage of Jesus. Forty two generations from Abraham all the way to Jesus, the promised One of God. I picture my name listed underneath His- the One who made a way for me to enter in. Today one name curiously stands out: “Joseph, the husband of Mary.”
The story begins with a baby (not his) and a respectable plan to ditch the marriage proposal and keep two reputations from getting too tarnished. This was surely not part of Joseph’s plan when he asked for Mary’s hand in marriage.
Adultery in Joseph’s day was considered one of the worst crimes.  Marriages didn’t just crumble, guilty parties were stoned to death. Some believe that Joseph was a widower and this extinguishes the view of him I’ve always held- the young man excited to begin a new life with his beautiful bride.  If this is true, Joseph had already endured tragedy and heartache.  I can’t blame him for trying to avoid the pain of betrayal. 
But God had a plan that was bigger than Joseph’s uncertainty.
But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.  She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”   
All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).  
When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.
Matthew 1:20-25 (ESV)
God spoke right into Joseph’s upheaval: “Do not fear to take Mary.” And Joseph rose and took his wife, hinging this decision on the hope laid out before him- a beautiful promise fulfilled by a loving God who had a plan.
Chapter 2 tells of a time when fear dominated the land under the rule of Herod the Great, a jealous monster of a man who took lives as he pleased. As Jesus entered the scene, a sinister murder plot unfolded. But God spoke to Joseph again in a dream, right into the very darkness where fears of a ruthless king ran rampant.
Because God had a plan that was bigger than the schemes of an evil king.
Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.”  
And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”
Matthew 2:13-15 (ESV)
Even in this rescue maneuver, there had to be fear. The journey to Egypt alone would have been long and extremely dangerous since this so-called place of refuge was known for its intense hatred for the people of God. But Joseph was given only two crucial instructions: “Rise and take the child and his mother to Egypt.” So Joseph rose and took them and yet another promise of God, written long ago, was fulfilled. 
Eventually the danger subsided, but not before the deaths of all the baby boys in Bethlehem. I cannot imagine that kind of darkness.  Such sorrow, such heaviness, such fear. But once more, God spoke to Joseph in a dream.  Once more, God revealed part of His plan.
And God’s plan was bigger than hopelessness.
But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, “Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child's life are dead.”
And he rose and took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there, and being warned in a dream he withdrew to the district of Galilee. And he went and lived in a city called Nazareth, so that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, that he would be called a Nazarene.
Matthew 2:19-23 (ESV)
Three times I read this repetition of God’s love, His protection, His faithfulness.  In the face of my own uncertainty and fear, God’s words illuminate the beautiful and bright hope that is mine in Jesus. God told Joseph again and again and again to rise and take his family somewhere safe- to the place of His choosing. Three times ancient prophecy was fulfilled, giving us a remarkable picture of a loving God who has a plan and a God who keeps His promises.
God’s plan not only involved protecting Jesus and Mary and Joseph; His plan was to protect and perfect the story He’s been writing since the beginning of time.
And His story involves me and you, too.

The word God used to wake Joseph to action, egeirĊ, is the very same Greek word used in Matthew 28:6 by the angel at the tomb. “He is not here; he has risen, just as he said.” Jesus got up. Jesus rose from the grave. Just as He said He would. 
The second command God gave Joseph was ‘take.’ This Greek word, paralambanĊ, is translated “to take with one’s self or to join to one’s self,” like becoming one in marriage. There is also the notion of going somewhere together, and I can’t help but picture it as moving out of the place of fear. In John 14:3 Jesus said, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” Jesus will return to take us home. Just as He said He would.
Our hope this Christmas season and all year round is built upon the truth of Jesus’ resurrection and the promise of His return.  
Joseph’s story points to God’s bigger love story unfolding. Joseph can be traced back to the Hebrew root word, yacaph, which means “to be joined to.” God used an average man facing real fear and uncertainty, stuck in a situation he never planned, to display the lasting love that compelled Him to give His Son, Jesus, so that we could be joined together… for eternity. 
Joseph reflects the Hope woven all throughout God’s love story, this good news we celebrate each December. You and I can reflect that same Hope every day of the year by remembering God’s instructions to Joseph:
RISE to new life in Jesus, and TAKE HOLD of the promise of His return.  
Hope is for the here and now. Hope is what we grasp in the waiting time. And when we’re clinging to Hope, it’s impossible to keep our white-knuckled grip on fear. As we celebrate the Savior’s birth, let’s remember He is alive and that changes everything. Because of this Hope, we can view uncertainty through the lens of eternity, trusting in the God who has a plan, the God who keeps His promises.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.  Romans 15:13