Take Up Your Cross

And he who does not take up his cross and follow Me [cleave steadfastly to Me, conforming wholly to My example in living and, if need be, in dying also] is not worthy of Me.” (Matthew 10:38 AMPC)

I’ve been looking forward to this time of year. In fact, I woke up excited knowing that the journey to Easter had officially begun. But it didn’t take long before I realized that I had already taken up my cross. As much as I anticipate the joy and victory of Easter Sunday, I’m often led to pause, reflect and experience the bumps along the way. Unfortunately, there’s no fast-tracking to Easter. Like any other happy ending, it had to reach its climax. There’s no gain without pain. No crown without a cross.

Photo by il vano on Unsplash

So begins our 40-day journey to Easter. Whether it’s something we’ve chosen to give up or something that we have to put up with, I know that it’s not going to be an easy journey. But I’m also a firm believer that what doesn’t kill us only makes us stronger, which is what the Easter story is about. Jesus died, but He also came back to life stronger. Sometimes we have to be knocked down in order to realize that we can get back up. We must fall in order to rise again. The only way to experience the resurrection power of Christ that we all want so desperately is to take up our cross and allow it to become the reason we overcome. The cross may be part of the journey, but it’s not the end.

The Healing Power of Love

But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5 NIV)

Love has the power to heal us in a way that nothing and nobody can. There’s something about it that helps us overcome the pain. When we know we’re loved, we’re changed from the inside out. We begin to see ourselves – and others – in a new light. No matter how much we’ve been hurt, love has the power to cure the pain and help us to rise again. It’s such a powerful force that nothing can contend with it (Romans 8:31-39).

The Bible is explicit about God’s love for us. It’s a love so great that He went through great lengths to prove it. We see that love in the person of His Son, Jesus, and His ultimate sacrifice on the cross. And while this love cost Jesus His life, it brought us healing: “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5). His love heals us! Let this truth fill your heart and make it whole again.

Turn the Light On

Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path. (Psalm 119:105 NIV)

By your words I can see where I’m going; they throw a beam of light on my dark path. (Psalm 119:105 MSG)

Psalm 119, the longest chapter in the Bible and which celebrates God’s Word, “is used in Jewish tradition to celebrate Rosh Hashanah (which is Jewish New Year)…It is fitting to use this psalm in that setting because the Psalmist beautifully expresses awe and adoration of God for his Word” (Open the Bible). As we celebrate a new year in just a few days, I’m reminded of the awesome power of God’s Word to light our path. I know just how much that has meant for me personally, especially this past year. Reading the Bible and having a verse(s) jump off its pages to illuminate the darkness in my life has been a constant source of strength and healing. I’ve been reminded to turn His light on and as we get ready to usher in a new year, I encourage you to do the same. Don’t go a day without it because it has the power to transform your darkest moments into one of your brightest. May all your days be merry and bright. Happy New Year!

Be Wise and Follow the Light

They went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. (Matthew 2:9-10 NIV)

The wise thing the Magi from the east did was to follow the light of Christ, and His light is hard to miss. It shines on our darkest days and if we’re willing to follow it, we will find Him. Even if it takes days, weeks, months or years, if we continue to follow it, it will eventually lead us out of the darkness and into His perfect light. The Magi pursued the Light for a couple of years until they found the Christ child (He was no longer a baby!). But what matters is that they found Him. If we can’t make it to the manger, we can still make it to the house (Matthew 2:11). But let’s be wise enough to keep following His light.

Don’t Keep Silent

“The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). (Matthew 1:23 NIV)

It’s been said that the first Christmas was anything but silent. People traveled to their own town to be registered for the census, a great company of angels praised God, shepherds glorified and praised God, Magi followed a star that would eventually lead them to the true King (while an earthly king was disturbed and all Jerusalem with him) and cries of a newborn baby filled the stable that night. Yup, it definitely wasn’t silent!

Fast forward to thousands of years later, we still find ourselves caught up in the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season. And while the world has tried to silence the meaning of that holy night, we’re called, now more than ever, to break the silence and let the world know the good news that we’re not alone because God has come to dwell with us. A “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6). O tidings of comfort and joy!

Joy to the World?

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.” (Luke 2:10 NIV)

On a first listen, “Joy to the World” sounds like an insensitive song title for those who are broken and hurting in our world (which is every one in the world!). I mean, really, “Joy to the World?” But, thankfully, the song goes on to answer the question of why we can still have joy while in this world, “Joy to the world, the Lord is come!” The same joy that was announced by angels on that first Christmas to lowly and terrified shepherds as they guarded their sheep at night. God isn’t oblivious to our pain and sorrow. He comes to us in our brokenness and pain and offers us the gift of His joy. In fact, His light shines the brightest on the darkest night, and we hear Him speak joy over us. I know because I’ve been there. 2022 is not a year on which I will look back with absolute pleasure. But if there’s anything I’ve learned is that I can still have joy regardless of my circumstances because of Jesus. He is the reason for the season. He is the reason I rejoice. So as I listen to the words of “Joy to the World,” I’m going to receive His joy and allow it to overflow to those around me.

Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
let ev’ry heart prepare him room.

Isaac Watts, “Joy to the World”

The Rising Sun

“Because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the path of peace.”
(Luke 1:78-79 NIV)

For those of us who have had to navigate through some really dark moments this year, I’m once again reminded of why Jesus came. He is “the rising sun [who came] to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death to guide our feet into the path of peace(Luke 1:78-79). Every time we thought there was no way out of the dark, there He was, shining His light on us, showing up when we were ready to give up. And this is the image that comes to mind when I listen to Zechariah’s song in Luke’s Gospel. “The beautiful imagery…is derived from the magnificence of an Eastern sunrise. In his temple service at Jerusalem the priest [Zechariah] must have seen the ruddy dawn rise grandly over the dark chain of the distant mountains, and lighting up with a blaze of golden glory the everlasting hills as they stood round about Jerusalem” (Pulpit Commentary).

Because of the light Jesus brings, I enter the Advent season with hope. Without Him, I would still be dwelling in the dark. The Rising Sun is the reason to look forward to better things to come. He is still the hope of Christmas. He is still the light when the world looks dark (“Hope of Christmas,” Matthew West). So, “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD rises upon you” (Isaiah 60:1).

Behind Closed Doors

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. (Philippians 4:6 NIV)

“But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” (Matthew 6:6 NIV)

“For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” (Matthew 18:20 NIV)

Because he bends down to listen, I will pray as long as I have breath! (Psalm 116:2 NLT)

In our social media-driven world, I’m once again reminded that oftentimes what happens in private is just as important as what happens in public. Incredible things begin to happen when we pray together behind closed doors. I’m blessed to be part of a small prayer group that chooses to pray in secret. Not because they’re embarrassed or shy – because believe me, they’re not – but because they understand the importance of keeping things between us and God. And while no one sees what we’re doing behind closed doors, amazing things are happening beyond those doors. Most importantly, however, there’s an inner peace that permeates my heart and soul as I join in prayer, even if on the surface it may seem like the storm is still raging. Because unlike the world that wants to promote your problems but does nothing about them, God is willing to bend an ear to listen and act on your behalf. So take your requests to Him with a trusted group of prayer warriors who will carry them to His throne of grace. You won’t be disappointed!

If you don’t have anyone to pray with, you’re welcome to submit your prayer requests on this blog. We’re standing with you in prayer!

He Still Shuts the Mouths of Lions

“My God sent his angel, and he shut the mouths of the lions. They have not hurt me, because I was found innocent in his sight.” (Daniel 6:22 NIV)

Daniel was promoted, but with that promotion came opposition. When his opponents couldn’t find anything wrong with him, they created it. They asked the king to create a law where everyone was supposed to pray to the king and anyone who didn’t was to be thrown into the den of lions. Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? Daniel sure thought so because he refused to pray to anyone but God, the true King. However, that seemed to warrant Daniel being thrown in the lion’s den. What I’ve come to realize is that the lions in the den with Daniel are also symbolic of his real opponents in the story. Is it any wonder that at the end of the story they’re the ones who are thrown in the den? “At the king’s command, the men who had falsely accused Daniel were brought in and thrown into the lions’ den, along with their wives and children. And before they reached the floor of the den, the lions overpowered them and crushed all their bones” (Daniel 6:22).

I’m not sure what lions you find yourself surrounded by today, but all I know is that God still shuts the mouths of lions. One of my favourite Scriptures says, “No weapon forged against you will prevail, and you will refute every tongue that accuses you. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD, and this is their vindication from me,” declares the LORD (Isaiah 54:17). So don’t worry about what the lions around you are saying or accusing you of because it’s God’s job to shut their mouths. When He does – because He still does – make sure to give Him the glory, just like Daniel – and the king – did (see Daniel 6:22, 25-27).

Plan on Giving Thanks Daily

 I will give thanks to you, LORD, with all my heart; I will tell of all your wonderful deeds. (Psalm 9:1 NIV)

A few years ago, I started counting my blessings using a “Blessings Jar” that someone had gifted me. Every time I was “blessed” with something, I would write it down and store it in the jar. At the end of the year, I would go through the jar and read each blessing, giving thanks for God’s blessings over the year that had passed. Earlier this year, I planned on being thankful every day. When I found a spare planner sitting around the house, I started using it to jot down at least one thing that had happened during the day and that I was thankful for. Believe me, there’s always something to give thanks for!

Photo by Holly Kooi on Unsplash

I’m not sure what your thanksgiving looks like, but I’m sure that we can all find the time to be thankful for God’s blessings in our lives on a daily basis. I encourage you to plan thanksgiving in your life not just on that one day in the year, but every day of the year. When you realize you are blessed every day, you will plan on giving thanks daily too. An attitude of gratitude will change your altitude. Because a thankful heart is a happy heart.