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?

Psalm 103: 1-5 Bless the Lord, O my soul; And all that is within me, bless His holy name! Bless the Lord, O my soul, And forget not all His benefits: Who forgives all your iniquities, Who heals all your diseases, Who redeems your life from destruction, Who crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies,  Who satisfies your mouth with good things, So that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

As we approach 2019, I happened to be reading Psalm 103. In it, David is giving thanks to God for the blessings in his life. I find his order of thanksgiving for the benefits of God interesting. In math, there is a concept known as “order of operations”. When presented with an equation, there is a certain order that we must follow to solve the equation and arrive at the right answer. Many fail to respect the order of operation and end up with an incorrect answer, genuinely frustrated because they thought they had the right answer.

David follows an order of Thanksgiving here. It’s a flow, much like the mathematical order of operations. He starts with thanking God for the benefit of relationship and communion with Him. This is always the place to start with God. We must always start with heartfelt appreciation for the forgiveness and restoration of relationship that we find in Christ. Without this restoration, nothing else matters and we ultimately end up with an incorrect answer.

Next, David thanks God for healing him of his sicknesses. We too must thank God for our health. How many health risks has God removed from us, sometimes without us even knowing we were at risk? How many times has He healed without us knowing we needed healing? Ask any person struggling with health and you will quickly realize that health is a blessing. For those of us who wake up in health, whatever the state, it is a blessing that is denied others. We must be thankful for His blessing when we are able to rise in the morning and spend another day serving Him.

Next, David thanks God for redeeming his life from destruction. We too must thank God for redeeming our life from destruction. How many times has God redeemed us? Who knows? Some redemption takes place without us knowing we’re in trouble. How might life be different if God were not in our life? God restores and redeems. He is slow to anger and quick to redeem. The Bible states that pride goeth before destruction. God grants us humility, so we might avoid pride.

David continues to thank God for His loving kindness and tender mercies. We too must thank God for love, kindness, and mercy.

Finally, David thanks God for the good things that satisfy the appetite. Notice the last thing in this order of thanksgiving is earthly, physical, “body satisfying” things.

In the order of thankfulness, food and things are not worth much without love and kindness. Love and kindness don’t mean much when our life is in a state of destruction. An ordered life doesn’t hold much enjoyment when our health is failing. Great health and all the rest mean nothing without the highest order of the operation – a relationship with Almighty God through Jesus.

We spend so much time on the last operation. We focus so little on the first. Yet, the first is where all the others start their cascade. In 2019, let’s focus more on the relationship and communion with God and let the others flow from this first operation.

Luke 2:49 And He said to them, “Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?”

In context, Jesus asked this of His parents when they found Him in the temple talking with the scholars. They’d found Him missing and understandably were scared that their child had wandered off. They admonished Him and this was the answer He gave.

This is a question every believer must answer in our walk with the Lord – “Why did you seek Me?” What do we hope to find? What does following Jesus mean to us? Who is He in the “everyday” of our lives?

Believers will inevitably hit rough water… sickness, financial problems, family crises. It’s a fact of life. Jesus is not bubble wrap for our comfort. Why did we seek Him? Rough waters allow us to grow into a deeper understanding of why we sought Him. Hard times challenge our faith. Pain and grief cause us to grow into more intimate relationship with Him. It’s when all our worldly safety nets are failing and our earthly anchors are coming loose in the storm that we seek God desperately and with a brokenness of heart that receives the seeds of His change.

Yet, we don’t like these rough waters. We fight them. It’s during these times that Jesus asks us the second question – “Did you not know I must be about My Father’s business?” Think about this question. This is Jesus’ eyes looking directly into our soul. Talk about a showstopping moment.

What is the Father’s business with us? It is to change us into the image of His Son. It is to cause us to serve one another. It is to grow us in relationship with Him. It is to get us to trust and draw closer. It makes sense then that, given the fact that rough waters, tribulations, and persecutions cause us to draw closer, that Jesus will allow into our lives exactly these things.

Why did we seek Him? To obtain a deeper and richer, more fulfilling relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Well, since this is our goal, why does it amaze us when Jesus goes about doing just this in our lives? Why does it amaze us when our faith is challenged? Did we not know that He would be about His Father’s business? Did we believe we could seek and find, yet never experience the business side of our walk? We knew He must be about just that. If nothing changed after we sought Jesus, did we really find Him?

The questions still echo down through the ages to every believer today. Jesus wasn’t just asking His mother and father. He asks us, when we become frustrated with life and it all seems too much – Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?

Why indeed? Did we not know these days would come?

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.

Matthew 7:3-5 And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

Too often, we’re lightning quick to find the fault in others. The term “toxic” is thrown around these days. We speak about how an environment is toxic or a person is toxic. We talk about toxic relationships. We tear down a person we perceive did us a grievous wrong… never stopping to ask – what was my part?

What a powerless place to live… in a place where someone else holds all the influence and we are simply living at their toxic mercy… poor, poor me.  

Taking personal responsibility for every situation in our life is true power. Power is found in realizing that we are not at the mercy of a “toxic” situation. Ultimately, it’s our responsibility to manage our relationships in such a way as is nurturing to our souls and not toxic. This is true power. This is true self control. This is true growth.

We need not complain about how someone is treating us, when we have not first determined how we demand to be treated. What is allowed once will be repeated. We teach others how to treat us. 

Who then is the toxin? Is it the person acting on what is allowed? Or is the toxin the person allowing the act? It takes a lot of courage to admit that we bear a large part of the  responsibility for how we are being treated. Few possess such courage. It’s easier to tell others to go get fixed, than to look inside and ask, “Why must I tear another down to feel more powerful? What am I communicating that is giving others the idea that I approve toxicity in my life?” 

When we constantly find toxic people in our life, tolerate toxic behavior, frequent toxic places, perhaps we are our own toxin… Perhaps, no one else is really to blame.

Luke 8:7 And some fell among thorns, and the thorns sprang up with it and choked it.

In Luke 8, Jesus gives us a parable about the seed and the sower. In it, He told us very clearly that the world and it’s cares will make all attempts to stop our Divine Purpose. The thorns that sprang up were explained in verse 14 – Now the ones that fell among thorns are those who, when they have heard, go out and are choked with cares, riches, and pleasures of life, and bring no fruit to maturity.

Many spend much time praying about purpose. Yet, the very things blocking that purpose are not addressed. The price is too high. The cost is too great. There’s pain in following passion. Fears and doubts assail.

God does not till the soil in our gardens… we do. God does not control the thorns… we do.

We either water the seeds or we water the weeds. Water takes the form of focus. We focus money, talents, time, and love through acts of choice. Like plants, that which receives more focus grows in our lives more. That which receives less focus grows less. We control the focus.

How brilliant that Jesus used thorns in the parable – sharp, painful to pull, hard to get rid of, will draw blood when mishandled, will grow out of control when left unchecked. The longer left unaddressed… the more difficult to bring under control. How wonderfully appropriate.

We pray that God will solve our issues, open our doors. When the issues remain and the doors stay closed, we cry out in frustration, griping, grumbling. We blame people. We blame circumstances. We blame God. Surely, the blame cannot rest in our own failure to address the thorns we see growing in our gardens. Surely, the fault cannot be mine.

The question is: are we tending our garden? Are we tearing up the weeds and watering the seeds? Are we braving the thorns and tearing them out by the roots, risking loss of blood and enduring pain in the process? Or are we sitting on the wall and asking God to do it all?

Philippians 4:13 says – I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Notice the verse starts with “I” and ends with “me”. There is personal price in following purpose. Many read this verse as – Christ, You do it all and I’ll watch. That’s not what it says though.

Make no mistake and understand: There is a price in purpose… a cost in calling… a pain in passion. If we want the promise, we must engage the process.

There is peace in “I am”. Often, people follow this statement with a descriptor – a mother, a father, a teacher, a pastor, a son, a daughter, a citizen, a worker, an addict, a sinner, an engineer… the list goes on and on. By adding these descriptors, we add requirements, duties, expectations. Any descriptor past “I am” serves to add anxiety, fear, shame, guilt, and pride… all worldly burdens.

God said, “I Am that I Am.” God is love, justice, wrath, compassion, generosity, and the list is infinite, but, when asked to box Himself in, God simply said, “I Am”. There is only peace to be found in this statement.

When I think of Him being “I Am”, I find no limit in who He is. God are You my father? “I Am”. God are You my Savior? “I Am” God will You always be with me? “I Am – I walk behind, in front, beside, and within… I Am above and below… I Am in your past, your present, and your future. I Am with you always. I Am.”

There is infinite peace in “I am”. It’s available. We simply must detach the descriptors that box us into requirements and realize that we have only one true descriptor when we are in Christ – We are children of the Most High God (Psalm 82:6, John 10:34-35). When we truly believe this, we see that we can find peace in trusting that “I am”. Everything else flows from this perfect state of being. Everything else is an “add on” to the essential “I am”.

Remember: We limit God in our thinking, but God is not limited by our thinking.

Luke 9:23 Then He said to them all, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.

God does not promise ease. He promises His Strength, His Presence, His Provision, but He doesn’t promise ease. He promises He will never leave us nor forsake us, but He does not say He won’t challenge us. John 16:33 says that we will have trials and tribulations when we follow Christ.

But, we want ease. We want to serve God, but we want it to be easy. “God, I’m ready to serve you, as long as the salary is right, I don’t have to move, I always have enough money and food, and my children can attend the same school. I’m ready to serve, as long as the church makes me smile, no one says anything hurtful, and everyone does everything my way. I’m ready to do great things for you Lord, as long as I’m not asked to lead, and not asked to follow, and not asked to do anything that I don’t find fun.” In other words, we’ll serve God in the absence of all difficulty. Let’s be honest… this serves no one but self.

When we set out to serve God, we serve knowing there will be difficulties. There will be hard days. There will be sickness. There will be people we disagree with. There will be money concerns. There will be times children stray. There will be unbelieving spouses. There will be friends who turn their backs. There will be family that question the calling.

We serve God, not in the absence of difficulties, but through the difficulties.

I often hear people say, “God won’t put anymore on me than I can stand.” It makes God sound like the logistics clerk and us the “strong person”. God says, “I will not put more on you than I can stand.” He will place whatever His Will requires in our life and, in our weakness, we must cry to Him to carry us. We must call on Christ to strengthen us. If we’re always strong enough to carry what God gives, we’re making ourselves out to be God and able to take on whatever He dishes out. Or, more likely, we’re simply not taking on much for Him.

God or Self? Difficulty or Ease? Is God the Vehicle carrying us or is He the clerk loading us? Expecting ease brings unnecessary difficulty into our daily walk with Him. Expect provision, love, strength, grace, mercy, compassion… expect challenge, trials, persecution, and tribulation. Expect no ease.

We serve God, not in the absence of difficulties, but through the difficulties. Presence of ease may indicate lack of service.

Matthew 13:33 Another parable He spoke to them: “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened.”

In physics, there’s an interesting phenomenon called the “Observer Effect.” It states that, simply by observing, the thing being observed is changed. Similar effects can be found in economics, psychology, sociology, human relationships, and even information technology. Presence impacts people and things in the environment, even when there is no intention to impact. Simply by being present, there is an impact.

What is the impact your presence brings? We must be aware that we have an impact on people, places, and things no matter whether we intend to have the impact or not. We bring beliefs, attitudes, talents, experiences, emotions, and many other individual offerings to all interactions. The offering is as unique as the individual bringing it. Some bring impact unconsciously and some bring impact consciously, but all bring impact.

Being conscious of the impact of our presence allows us to choose how we will impact. Choosing positive over negative, love over hate, acceptance over rejection, courage over fear, and understanding over divisiveness allows us to use our presence to improve our surroundings.

Notice that the leaven in the scripture was a small thing that caused an “impactful” change. It takes only one person, acting in a constructive or destructive way, to change a large environment. It’s true of business environments. It’s true of families. It’s true of churches.

Proverbs 29:2 says – When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice; But when a wicked man rules, the people groan. Notice that one wicked man can cause the people to not only stop rejoicing, but to actually begin to groan. A single bad egg spoils it all. We’ve all experienced this. One person spoils the mood of the family gathering. One person changes the mood of the office. If you’ve never had this experience, it may be that you are that one person…

Be positive in presence. Be the person who makes others rejoice by your coming and not by your going. There’s an old joke that says – everyone brings joy… some by showing up and others by leaving.

What is the impact your presence brings? Being an observer doesn’t negate your impact. Be an active participant in how you impact others. Choose to have your presence make a positive, loving impact and improve your environment wherever you find yourself. Be the leaven of Christ and not the leaven of the Pharisees. Jesus spoke of both – one kind leads to the Kingdom of Heaven and the other leads to separation from God.

James 3:5 Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things. See how great a forest a little fire kindles!

Taming the tongue concerns more than taming the tongue of the mouth. James most likely never imagined a world where people voiced thoughts that reached the eyes of hundreds with the press of the “post” button. In today’s world of social media, e-mail, texts, and all forms of written communication, many use the tongue of the mind to write thoughts as much, if not more than, the tongue of the mouth to speak.

Words spring from our mind. Before the first muscle twitches in our mouth, the tongue of the mind has voiced the thought and sent it flying along the nerve endings to become our speech. Likewise, that same tongue of the mind sends thoughts along nerve endings to quicken our hands as we write. The tongue of the mind is a single fountain from which all our communication flows. Left untamed, it voices hurtful and damaging thoughts about others. Left untamed, it is our own cruelest critic. Left untamed, it voices self-hate and cruel words of criticism that we would never say to someone we love and would never allow another to say to us.

In this time that James likely never imagined, we must exercise extraordinary care. We must care to speak words of self-love and use our thoughts to recognize our true value. We must silence the inner critic. We must muzzle the inner perfectionist, mister or missus “never good enough”. No one needs Greta Gremlin living in our mind… have Positive Pamela throw her out. Train the mind with positive words.

We must also exercise extraordinary care to tame the tongue as it relates to what we write in texts, e-mails, and social media posts. Speak words of encouragement. Muzzle words of criticism. Look only to heal and never to wound.

Proverbs 25:11 says – A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver. We have the power to bring the tongue of our mind under much better control. We own our words; therefore, we own their impact. Hurt or healing? Tame the tongue of the mind and the tongue of the mouth will follow.