Genesis 3:9 Then the Lord God called to Adam and said to him, “Where are you?”

In this passage, God is walking in the cool of the garden. The ancient language has the sense that it’s been a hot day and that there is now a cool breeze blowing. God is calling out this question. The pinnacle of His creation is hiding among the plants of the garden. Adam and Eve are hiding from the Creator of both man and garden.

God calls this question, not because He doesn’t know where Adam is, but because Adam no longer knows who he is. Adam is not just lost among the leaves, but lost now in his sin and wandering in his heart. Before the bite, he was joined to his Creator in a beautiful harmony. His soul communed with God and suffered no separation. Eve’s soul communed with God – no separation. Adam and Eve communed with one another – no separation.

Then, the bite – the sin – and there was instant separation. God was asking, “Where are you?” because Adam no longer knew where he was with God. They no longer understood who they were created to be. Pride, lust, envy, and all the other things that separate us from God and one another had invaded the Garden of Eden that was once the heart and mind of man.

On this first day of 2020, God asks each of us – Where are you? Not an accusation, but an invitation. It’s a sweet invitation from the One who knows exactly where we are and loves us anyway. He doesn’t ask – How did you get here? He doesn’t ask – How will you clean up this mess? He simply asks, “Where are you?” and we are invited, through Christ, to answer – Here I am Lord, seeking Your hand and longing for Your love. What better way to start a new decade than to be found resting peacefully in the arms of our Father.

John 18:36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here.”

Jesus didn’t concern himself with politics and worldly things. He knew where He came from and He knew where He was going. He knew why He was here and what His purpose was. He left us all with a purpose known as The Great Commission. He has gone ahead and, even now, is preparing a place for His followers.

Lest we think that Jesus was sealed in a bubble and never really faced the negativity that we face today, remember that the Romans were cruelly dominating the area, religious leaders were completely corrupt, women were property, children could be sold, taxes were high and the tax collectors dishonest, poverty as rampant, disease was common, slavery was legal, and the list goes on. Jesus was not part of the popular groups: Pharisees, Sadducees, or the Essenes. He could have gotten caught up in the negativity of His world. He could have railed against everything happening in that moment. His energy could have been wasted on what really didn’t matter.

Instead, Jesus chose to stay focused on the Kingdom and the Kingdom cause. He chose to remain focused on compassion, love, forgiveness, humility, and salvation. He chose to walk in poverty and live a very spartan life. He chose to speak truth. Make no mistake that He chose. He lived in no bubble. The pressure to conform to society was on Him just as it is on us.

We too must make a choice to focus on the Kingdom. Once saved, we are no longer of this world, but we are still in the world. We choose where to focus our energy. We must choose to love those we disagree with and pray for those who hate us. We must stop trying to save the world because we know the world will not be saved. We are not Republicans or Democrats, conservative or liberal, rich or poor… we are Christians – Christ’s followers. When tempted to feel anger or hatred toward another, remember how Christ responded to the nails being pounded into His flesh. Mimic His words and love the one trying to pierce your peace.

Instead, let us choose to live life positively. Let’s show people the love of Jesus and the promise of the Kingdom. Judgement is reserved for God. We are a witness that Jesus overcame the world and we’ll someday be with Him. Our goal, our mission, is to provide as many as will hear with detailed directions on how to arrive in Christ’s Kingdom at the end. No more drinking from the poison pitcher of this world… let’s choose instead to share the Living Water provided by Jesus Christ.

Psalm 118:22 The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.

Anyone who’s ever done building of any kind will tell you that it’s critical to establish a firm foundation or the building will have problems. In early times, a cornerstone was established. It was the largest, best squared, and most level stone because all the other stones were positioned based on the corner stone. All the building, to the very pinnacle of the roof, rested and anchored on this cornerstone. Get it wrong and the whole building turned out wrong.

Isaiah 28:16 says – Therefore thus says the Lord GOD, “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a tested stone, A costly cornerstone for the foundation, firmly placed. He who believes in it will not be disturbed. God gave us an anchor in Jesus. He promised this hundreds of years before Jesus came. Acts 4:11 calls Jesus the ‘stone which was rejected by you builders, which has become the chief cornerstone.’ When we believe, our core will not be disturbed.

Satan is interested in small shifts. If he can get us to make small shifts in our foundation, he knows that our very soul will eventually collapse. If he can get us to shift our moral stance on the value of human life, the sanctity of marriage, the dignity and respectability of all human beings, the worship of possessions, the value we place on our family, and where we focus our time, he knows this shift in our moral foundation is enough that we will eventually fall into everything the world suggests.

Depending on the suggestion of the world to provide an anchor for our soul is like tying our boat to a piece of driftwood adrift on an angry sea. We’ll drift wherever the world is drifting, tossed about at each waves mercy, waking every morning not knowing where the boat has drifted, and never knowing when we might run aground or hit underwater hazards.

When Jesus was confronted with evil, He stood on the rock of scripture. When challenged by those who demanded He follow the “world view”, He quoted scripture. He knew that His foundation was to be found in the unchanging truth of God.

We cannot change the sea, but we can choose our anchor. We cannot calm the waves, but we can choose our shelter. We cannot control the currents, but we can choose whether we follow the drift. Satan is into small shifts. In those, he can get us out of square, cause our soul to lean, and eventually pull us down into confusion and despair.

A few years ago, NASA crashed a satellite into Mars. Everyone was shocked. It was later determined that an engineer used a metric measurement in the computer program which was only slightly less than an inch. Over millions of miles on the way to Mars, this small change caused the satellite to be miles closer than mission control thought. The satellite hit the planet instead of going into orbit miles above it. A small change made a big $280 million difference.

The world says, “Set yourself free, trust in me.” God says, “Trust Me, I will set you free.” Adrift or Anchored – everyday we choose. Never underestimate the impact of a small shift. 

Ephesians 4:32 And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.

Stumbling is part of the Christian experience. Some stumble more, some less, but all stumble. The Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 7:15 – For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. Has anyone other than me experienced what Paul is writing here? Has anyone other than me done something and later not understood why it was done?

As Christians, we’re to be quick to listen, full of forgiveness and understanding, slow to speak and slow to get angry. We long for forgiveness and understanding when we have stumbled, but are often slow to forgive and not very understanding when our brother or sister stumbles.

In our walk, we will stumble… we will do that which we hate… we will have times when our word doesn’t align with who we’ll one day be in Christ. We’re human. (The interesting thing is that others we encounter along our path are human too. The Bible says that there are none perfect.) When we stumble, how will we use this to improve our witness? What will we learn? When we see our brother stumble, what can we help him learn? Will we look on and cluck our tongue or will we reach out and help him up? Will he learn love or judgement from our reaction?

Witness is a journey. This means there will be times we stumble. This means we will encounter brothers and sisters who have stumbled. A pedestal of pride is the jumping off place for destruction (Proverbs 16:18). God calls on us to forgive even as He has forgiven us. How has He forgiven us? Frequently, completely, undeservedly, mercifully, gracefully, unconditionally, and the list goes on. How are we to forgive our brother? The same way. How do we hope to be forgiven by others? Just as God forgave us.

Our choice when the strong stumble: Look on or lift up. Witness is a journey, not a pedestal.

Genesis 21:10-11 Therefore she said to Abraham, “Cast out this bondwoman and her son; for the son of this bondwoman shall not be heir with my son, namely with Isaac.”  And the matter was very displeasing in Abraham’s sight because of his son.

Ishmael was precious to Abraham. In Genesis 17:18-20, Abraham asks that God make Ishmael the son of promise. In Genesis 21:11, we see that Sarah’s demand that Ishmael be sent away displeased Abraham because of his son. Genesis 16 tells us that Abraham was 86 when Ishmael was born. Genesis 21 tells us that Abraham was 100 when Isaac was born. God spoke to Abraham and verified that Ishmael must be sent away. Isaac was the son of promise. Ishmael was 14 years old when sent away.

In life, we must be willing to let go of the precious to receive the promise. We must be willing to release what we value to receive God’s best. Often, we miss the promise because we refuse to surrender the precious.

There are times that what is precious to us is also poison to us. The precious today poisons the promise of tomorrow, distracting our focus and draining our resources. The precious may be a poison relationship. The precious may be trying to save a wayward child. The precious may be a job with a big paycheck. The precious may be a mortgage beyond our means. The list is limitless. Only through self-examination can we identify the precious blocking the promise.

God doesn’t always require that we release the precious, but He does require that we always be willing to release the precious. With both hands desperately grasping the precious, we have no hands free to receive God’s loving promise. Be willing to release the precious that you might be available to receive the promise.

Isaiah 43:19 Behold, I will do a new thing, now it shall spring forth; Shall you not know it? I will even make a road in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.

A survivor of a small plane crash found himself floating in the ocean. He’d been afloat for hours with no life vest, surviving by floating on his back. After so many hours, he was exhausted and thought the end to be near. In the darkness, he saw something coming toward him. It looked like a predator, so he slapped at the water, but still it came. As he slapped outward, expecting to be attacked, his hand struck wood. It was driftwood, arriving in the nick of time, as a flotation device, saving his life. He gratefully grabbed hold. What had been scary was now prized!

Later in his ordeal, he spotted land! Ecstatic, he started to kick his legs. After expending much energy, he realized that the wood he was grasping was being swept out from the shore by the outgoing tide. He had to make a choice – hold on to the wood and continue to float or let go of the wood and swim for shore, taking the risk that he may not be strong enough to make it. If he let go and was not strong enough, he would have plenty of time to think what a fool he’d been to let the blessing go. If he didn’t, he’d have plenty of time to wonder what might have been if he had swam for shore.

He let go of the wood. He realized that this blessing was a passing blessing, not meant to be permanent. Though scary and risky, he knew that, in order to reach the shore, he had to let go.

How many times does God send a passing blessing to help us stay afloat and we, in fear, try to make it a permanent blessing? God sends a job to allow us to raise our family, but, when the family is raised, we cling to the job, while the tide of time sweeps us along, floating in an ocean of empty things and missed purpose.

Not all blessings are meant to be a permanent part of our life. Some blessings are meant to be passing. Some people are meant to come and then go. Seasons will change. Situations change. Circumstances change. It’s an undeniable truth of life.

Each of us face times in our life when we are challenged to “let go of the driftwood”. We reach a time when we feel unfulfilled, knowing that there is more to life. God may be sending a clear message that the blessing we’re clinging to was never meant to become our permanent home. We know that possessions are not purpose.

God promises that He will do a new thing, make a road in the wilderness of our anxiety, make a river in the desert of our fear, but we must first know it! We must trust that the same God who sent the driftwood to keep us from drowning will make a way in the wilderness and provide refreshment in the desert. But we must choose to let go.

Not all blessings are meant to be permanent. Sometimes, they’re meant to be used, appreciated, and then released, in anticipation of the next blessing to come. Had the man in our story never let go of the log he would have almost certainly died. Instead, he let go, found himself exhausted, never made the shoreline, floated on his back yet a while longer, and was rescued by a fishing boat that sped him to a dock where a waiting ambulance sped him to the hospital, barely in time to save his life.

We must choose to believe that God is making roads in the wilderness, rivers in the desert. We also must trust when God prompts us to let go of what is holding us back and tells us to swim. God doesn’t promise that the shore we see is the one we will reach. He simply promises that He will bring us safely to the shore.

What passing blessing are you clinging to as permanent today?

Hebrews 6:1 Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God

Growing up, we had a doorpost leading into the kitchen where Mama and Daddy measured our growth. They’d put our back against the doorpost and, using a ruler or a book, they’d carefully make a mark. The difference between the lower mark and the higher represented our physical growth.

As a child, I knew I was growing. The fact that my pants legs were too short and looked like I was preparing for a flood served as evidence. Though I saw this evidence, it was still a great feeling when Daddy pulled that ruler away and we turned to see a mark higher up on the doorpost. There is the old mark and here is the new mark. Growth had indeed taken place. I was able to clearly compare a past growth mark to my current state.

Some never make that mark. Some never engage in self-examination. Some never drive a clear stake in the ground and declare it as the baseline for determining growth.

As we approach the changing of the year, this is a great time to take that measure of our current spirit. Between today and tomorrow, I’ll be sitting, probably more than once, and taking stock of my current spirit. I’ll look at the measurement I took last year and I’ll compare to the current measure. God will reveal growth. How much higher is the mark this year than the mark last year? Based on this mark, I’ll lay out a plan of daily activities, with periodic milestones. I’ll set calendar reminders and post reminders in highly visible places.

As we close this year, take a moment to back up against the doorpost of your mind and allow God to reveal a measure. Consider the state of the spirit within. Let Him place a mark. We can’t measure the growth if we never take the baseline measure. How will we know we have grown if we have no mark to compare?

Get clear on the current state of spirit. Strive to clarify and focus. Consume spiritual nourishment and exercise spiritual gifts. Be amazed, at the end of 2019, to step back and look at the growth experienced through God’s leading and grace.

Luke 2:14 “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”

On this Christmas morning, as I reflect on the Christmas story, the birth of Jesus, and the greatest gift ever given, I’m struck by the instructions given by the heavenly host just before departing the shepherds on that glorious night. Glory to God in the highest first… then peace and goodwill toward men.

How often Christmas becomes about the tree, the dinner, the presents, the in-laws. While certainly beautiful decorations and nice presents are fun,and gathering with family and friends can be nice, God instructs us to bring (at the least) two gifts on Christmas day, He doesn’t leave us guessing – We are to first give glory to Him for the wonder of Christ’s birth. That is our first focus on Christmas morning – praise and glory to His name for the gift given long ago.

After we give Him glory, we are to bring out the second gift – Peace and Goodwill to those around us. This is a choice and completely independent of whether anyone else shows up with their peace and goodwill or not! This is not a gift swap. This is a time for us to give regardless of what we receive.

This peace is to be to ALL, not just those we like. This Goodwill is to be to everyone, even the person who said ugly things about our sweater last year. The peace and goodwill is another worship to God. It is a second worship and, by it’s very practice, Gives Glory to God in the Highest! We are accomplishing the first command, while exercising the second command. It sounds oddly reminiscent of Matthew 22:37-39 – Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ We love God by loving others. We give glory to God when we love others.

Today, bring the two greatest gifts. Before anything else, Give Glory to God in the Highest. Then, continue to give Him glory and praise by bringing Peace on earth and Goodwill to all men and women, everywhere you roam.

Merry Christmas.

Luke 2:8 Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.

Just another ordinary night with the sheep… as the shepherds walked to the fields where the flock grazed, I can imagine that the conversation swirled around the ordinary things in life. One may have been commenting on how his knee was acting up. Another may have been lamenting that he was unable to find a wife. Another hadn’t slept well and it was going to be a long night. Miracles happen every moment. Every heartbeat is a miracle. Every baby born is a miracle. Every breath is a miracle. Walking is a miracle. Reading is a miracle. Remembering is a miracle. Ask a paralyzed person if walking is a miracle, a blind man if seeing is a miracle, a person losing memory to Alzheimers disease if remembering is a miracle – the answer will be a resounding yes. Albert Einstein said, “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” What if we started living life as though everything was a miracle? What if every breath became a reason for thanksgiving? What if we viewed every person as a miracle straight from God? What if every plant, animal, and even the stones on the ground became a source of fascination for us? Too often, we wait for the angel choir to begin singing. We expect a star to appear above our heads. We willfully remain blind to the miracles all around us. We refuse to see the blessing in every breath. There’s a great probability though that we won’t see an angel and no heavenly host will sing to us. We must choose to see the miracles all around us. In this Christmas season, choose to appreciate the miracle of family and friends, choose to embrace the miracle of independent thought, even when we don’t agree with the thought. Choose to love our neighbor, even when he doesn’t look or worship like us. Choose to love our body, with all it’s aches and pains and wrinkles. Choose to rejoice in the miracle that God loves us, even when He knows us better than we know ourselves. Miracles are found in our ordinary moments. Blessing arrives one breath at a time. As Albert Einstein said – we choose how we will see life… Choose to see everyone and everything in life as a blessing, a miracle straight from God this Christmas season.

Luke 10: 38-42 Now it happened as they went that He entered a certain village; and a certain woman named Martha welcomed Him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus’ feet and heard His word. But Martha was distracted with much serving, and she approached Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me.” And Jesus answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.”

Christmas can become a very stressful time when we allow it. There are decorations to hang, gifts to purchase, plays to attend, business to finish, family situations to navigate, food to fix, and the list goes on endlessly. Many are the givers and more are the receivers. It can be a frantic time.

Though not technically a Christmas story, the story of Mary and Martha is indeed a story that plays out in families and organizations at Christmas time. Everyone knows a Martha. Martha is frantically trying to decorate the perfect house, buy the perfect gift, take the perfect Christmas photo, and be all things to all people. Yet, Christmas holds little joy. It holds far more resentment. There’s resentment of a sibling not doing a perceived part or a spouse not “stepping up”. Thoughts race about overwork and under-appreciation. Anger simmers. Joy slips away. This plays out year after year in human gatherings everywhere.

Yet, Jesus is very clear. Choose Joy. Choose the best part. Choose to maintain joy in service to others. He says that Mary has “chosen” the good part. She has chosen to focus, not on the world and all the “have to” items in it, but on the things of God. 

Do we choose to be Joyful at this time of the year? Do we serve with Joy? Is the money, present, decoration, or photo what we’ll recall? Or will we recall the warmth of a grandparents hand, the hug of a child, the laugh of a newborn, or the unplanned picture of silly happenings? 

This year, choose to be Joyful in all that Christmas has to offer. Start with Joy at Christ’s birth. Each cookie baked, each concert attended, each card addressed – be sure that Joy is present. If it is a requirement, an expectation, or drudgery, reframe it to something Joy-filled and Joyful.

It’s easy to become Martha – worried and troubled about many things. Jesus says that we must choose the good part. We must choose to have a smile in our hearts that matches the one on our lips. When it all becomes more trouble than it’s worth, we need to consider why we’re doing it? Who are we serving? Others…. or our ego? 

Service, absent the indwelling of Joy, is a gift to no one. Joy is a gift received, even while it is being given. Christmas is about choosing the good part – Joy, Peace, Love – while we serve one another.