This year, stop being who you were.

Think about it: If Mary had been engaged to a guy with a drinking problem and a couple of failed marriages, we probably wouldn’t be reading about her or her husband today. Joseph was chosen for the role of custodial parent just as surely as Mary was chosen for the role of Christ-bearer because he was a righteous man. He, too, was a virgin (not just Mary), a guy with integrity who chose a holy woman to be his wife and who treated her with respect even when she presented him with more questions than answers.

Overnight, Joseph went from being a small-town businessman with a fiancee and what I assume was a solid family home to being a refugee and a scandal who spent years outrunning a corrupt ruler who wanted his son dead. Joseph teaches me that if I want to be part of a story bigger than myself, I have to stop being who I was (even if who I was, was perfectly respectable) so I can go with God.

I have been asking the Lord to raise up men of God in our community with the heart of Joseph — men willing step into a bigger story. I guess what I’m really praying for is men willing to stop being who they were, so they can become who God intends. How does one do that, exactly … whether you are a man or a woman?

Here are a few of my first thoughts on how to stop being who you were:

Stop listening to the wrong voices (and start listening to the right ones).

If you are not already clear on how God speaks into your life, stop everything and figure that out. Remember that Joseph was able to walk out the early days of Jesus’ life and keep that child alive because of his ability to hear from God. And my suspicion is that those prophetic dreams — to marry the pregnant girl, to escape to Egypt — were not his first. Knowing what I know about how God works, I suspect Joseph already had a habit of hearing through dreams and God already knew he had Joseph’s ear when he spoke in that way. Deeply faithful people tend to know the voice of God, and have practiced listening over years. If you don’t already know how God gets your attention, that is worth figuring out; otherwise, you will be sidetracked too often by the wrong voices.

Stop wasting time (and start reading your Bible).

Where are you spending your time? It doesn’t make sense to spend hours and hours online, reading or listening to political commentary, while you go for days, weeks or months without opening your Bible. At least, it doesn’t make sense to do that and then wonder why you don’t sense God’s presence in your life. I read this someplace and it really resonated: You can’t create and consume at the same time. If what you’re wanting to create is a deeper relationship with Jesus and a more disciplined prayer and scripture life, you won’t get there with a habit of wasting time surfing everything except the Bible. We all need a little downtime, but we could all also stand to be a little more honest about where the bulk of our time goes. I can tell you this from personal experience: my prayer life improved dramatically the day I took all social media apps off my phone. In 2018, stop wasting time on everyone else’s daily life and start being intentional about yours.

Stop fighting the wrong battles (and start fighting the right ones).

Paul reminds us that our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against spiritual forces of evil. To the extent that I focus on the wrong enemies, I will waste time and energy and can even play into the real enemy’s hands. To put it another way, our real enemies almost never have skin on.

Think about Joseph’s choices. He moved his family to Egypt to protect his son while untold numbers of children were killed. It took serious faith to stay the course, knowing others would be hurt by Herod’s evil actions. Joseph didn’t get sidetracked by a broken man’s foolishness. He kept his focus on spiritual realities and God’s plan. His job was to bring Jesus safely into adulthood. Knowing his call kept him from being distracted by other battles.

(Side note: Our job, also, is to bring Jesus into adulthood … our adulthood.)

Stop imitating others (and start imitating Jesus).

It really never occurred to me until this Christmas season that Joseph and Mary were the first followers of Jesus. They were the first to let him change their lives. They believed he was God’s redeemer for a lost and hurting world, and they went to great lengths to make sure the world knew that. In a very real sense, it wasn’t Jesus who became like his custodial dad, but Joseph who became like his son. He is a great example to us of what can happen when a person stops being who they were so God can write them into a bigger story.

If that is your heart for 2018, may you have courage to stop being who you were so you can become all God intends you to be.

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Praying in the real world

J. C. Albert has to be one of the greatest followers of Jesus I’ve ever met. I met him in India in 2012. He was the most open, loving, friendly guy and he had these wonderful stories to tell of adventures with Jesus. He has visited and shared the good news of Jesus Christ in nearly 3,000 tribal villages in India. He has walked nearly 10,000 miles for Jesus while being chased by tigers and bears and Hindu extremists. He is a true adventurer who is fueled by the love of Jesus.

Every need Albert has had since beginning in ministry in the 80s has been met without him ever asking anyone for anything. He lets God determine both the need and the provision. Here is what he says about that in his little book on evangelism:

“Prayer is the fuel that runs our ministry. Every experience, trial and inspiration I have recorded is a result of prayer. The foremost thing I learned in ministry is prayer followed by Bible study. Prayer empowers and gives vision.”

Those words resonate with me and are proven not so much by my faithfulness as my failures. In seasons when my faith has faltered, I can invariably point to a fumbled prayer life. Prayer empowers and gives vision; the lack of it weakens trust and causes me to wander.

Maybe for the sake of improving my vision, God has been leading me more deeply into the place of prayer. For the last three years, I’ve been on a journey with God centered on intimacy. It started late in 2014 when the Lord spoke and challenged me to give my whole heart to him. Wholehearted devotion is not for the faint of heart. It will break and expose us like nothing else can. And it can also lead us into depths of joy and surrender that are too rich for words.

I’ve written elsewhere about things I’ve learned on this journey toward more intimacy in prayer. This year, I add these thoughts to an ongoing list:

  • I’m learning how prone I am to pray my wishlist, and how quickly I lose interest in just having good conversations with Jesus. If I had a dollar for every prayer I’ve prayed in twenty years of ministry asking God to accomplish some thing for me so I can be happy and fulfilled as a pastor, I’d be a rich woman (and the tithe on that would set my church up until Jesus comes back!). In this season, God has revealed to me the joy of being in conversation with him — not just being with him but talking to him about things and sharing hopes and fears without expectation that he will be my Cosmic Fixer who makes it all right. This is about learning to trust God’s character, not his ability to come through for me.
  • I’m learning to seek God’s perspective. Rather than begging him to get on board with my needs (which are defined by my limited perspective), I’m learning to ask God to show me what he sees. This kind of prayer is a doorway into the prophetic. It is a call to God to show me that which is not as if it is. Praying in this way has increased my deep-level joy and decreased my chronic anxiety. I find myself actually believing God’s got this.
  • I’m learning to pray my hungers. I’m hungry for Heaven, for the Kingdom to come, for seeing God move in real and tangible ways, for deeper and more vulnerable love, for purity of motives. I hunger for all those things, but rather than praying for God to make them happen, I’m simply praying so God will hear my heart … and maybe so I can hear it, too.
  • I’m learning to pray for the healing of others. As I’ve let go of my own wishlist prayers, I’ve discovered an increased ability to pray for others’ healing. My gift is inner healing; I rarely see physical healings, but have seen quite a few miraculous inner healings. In this season, God is giving more authority to move around in this realm of prayer. I’m discovering that as I let go of my begging prayers, God is increasing my authority in prayer.

Mostly, I’m realizing just how vast and good God is, and how deep is his well. As I explore this call to wholeheartedness, I find myself hungry and hungrier still. I want to encourage you to explore new pathways in prayer in 2018. Let prayer lead you more deeply into relationship with the One who loved you first and loves you most.

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Be born in me.

Another guest post by my friend, Angel Davis:

Francesca Battistelli has written one of my favorite Christmas songs. When I first heard Be Born in Me, it resonated deeply. I am moved by the thought of Mary’s heart-cry after she learned that as an unwed teenager she was chosen to become mother to the Son of God. “I am the Lord’s servant…may your word to me be fulfilled” (Luke 1:38).

What surrender! We’ve become so accustomed to the story that we may not even sense just how profound that surrender was. We think, “Of course she responded that way. This is who God chose, so surely he gave her grace to respond as one chosen.” Or maybe we hear that response and say, “Whew! Good thing that wasn’t me getting that news. And good thing I’ll never be called like that.”

Unless we are all called like that. Aren’t we all carriers of the Incarnation? Is this not what Christmas is about? Isn’t this season of Advent a call to “make ready the inn” of our own hearts, so we can receive the Christ child with wholehearted surrender, as Mary teaches?

What does it mean to allow Christ to be “born” in us? The lyrics of Battistelli’s song speak volumes:

“I am not brave, I’ll never be


The only thing my heart can offer is a vacancy. 


I’m just a girl, nothing more


But I am willing, I am Yours.”

The message is clear: we have nothing to offer a holy God but our willingness and a place in our hearts. Our best is making room in the inn of our hearts to receive the Christ child and allow his power to work through us. We are not brave in and of ourselves and no good thing we can do or be can be good enough for a holy God. Yet, in the hands Emmanuel — God with us, God in us — our hearts can become a place where God dwells. He comes to reside in us and in him, we are born.

Hear that again: He comes to reside in us and in him, we are born. And being being born in him, we now have access to his presence and power. As we cultivate awareness and ask the Holy Spirit to build our confidence in that reality, we can make more of an impact in other lives.

In this Advent season, as we celebrate Jesus’ ‘arrival and as we experience the tension and yearning for the “not yet” completion of His final coming, we have the opportunity to let God search our hearts and minds and point out any offensive habits we hold onto (Psalm 139:23-24).

And isn’t it interesting that the scriptures specifically refer to “anxious thoughts”? Perhaps the biggest obstacle we have to the Christ who wants to be born in us — who wants us to be born into him — is our inability or unwillingness to rest in the finished work of Jesus. Because you and I, if we call ourselves Christ followers, do know the end of the story. He did come to save the world from the sin and evil. This is the good news of Christmas, of Jesus, of the Bible. He saves us from the tyranny of fear, of anxiety, of death, of sin. Making the inn of our hearts ready for more of Jesus means being honest about what those anxieties, fears and sins are, not just telling him about them but literally through prayer and repentance, handing them over so He can exchange them for His Peace. And we know we have done it when we actually have his peace, the peace that settles beyond reason in whatever circumstance we face.

His peace is an indicator of His presence.

This is how you and I — regular people, just like Mary and Joseph — can usher in the presence of Christ. This is how we bring him into every situation and into every room. It is a birthing — him into our hearts, and us into his — so that more and more of Jesus’ presence and power is released into the world in which we live. Surrender to that presence and power makes us part of the solution to a broken world. It is one person, allowing God to do what he desires with you … just like Mary.

Angel H. Davis is a Christ follower who lives in Athens, Georgia and a Licensed Clinical Social Worker specializing in healing prayer. Read more from Angel in her book, The Perfecting Storm: Experiencing God’s Best Through the Trials of Marriage. This is an exceptional resource for those who want to see transformation in their marriage.

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Jesus changes everything.

Think about the impact of one child’s birth in Bethlehem on the world we live in today. It is stunning to remember just how radically that one life has altered human history.

Jesus’ take on the value of life changed how we value children. Google “Jesus and children” and you’ll find a menu of articles, some of them claiming that Jesus basically invented children, in the sense that he defined them as people of worth. Before the culture of Christ permeated the Roman world, children were considered property, not people. They were used as slaves, often for sex, and infants were left on the street to die. Baby girls were left more often which meant more boys than girls, which meant more tension among adults and more abuse of women. When Jesus gave children value, the paradigm shift was global. And to think God did it by sending a baby, so we could no longer question what God really thinks about children and about the value of life.

Let’s talk about women. Paul said, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). This was a radical statement, and it flowed out of Jesus’ own treatment of women. He made sure there was a place for them in the story of God. Women were with the disciples as they traveled. Women funded ministry. Women were last at the cross, first at the tomb and first to be told to go and tell the others. Jesus offered a paradigm that values women, children, the poor, the oppressed, the ones who never knew they had the favor of God. That changed everything.

And that changed education. Here’s what happens when people start thinking of other people as people. The next step is an improvement in basic human rights, beginning with education. One of the most radical social statements of Paul was his permission he gave women to learn (1 Timothy 2;11). It meant admitting that women had potential beyond their ability to bear children. And as Christianity progressed, schools became part of the Great Commission. Some of the finest academic institutions in the world were begun by Christians. Literacy is a Christian value. Global literacy was introduced with the movable press, and the first book printed on the Gutenberg press? The Bible.

Christianity opened us up to love. Jesus gave us a charge to love the hard ones — those who are sick and in prison and those who are poor. We’re told over and over in the Bible to make room in our hearts and lives for widows and orphans. This led to the development of what we now call hospitals. One of the early Councils of church leaders (the Council of Nyssa) made it a standard that every church should be attached to a place that cares for sick and poor people.

Jesus made humility and forgiveness cool. Philippians 2 explains the crucifixion and its value of humility in such clear terms. He humbled himself even unto death as a way of serving humanity and that personality trait changed the way a hierarchical world valued humility as a virtue. Conan the Barbarian was once famously asked, “What is best in life?” This was his answer: “To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and hear the lamentations of their women.” In contrast, Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:43). Hannah Arendt, a professor at Princeton, goes so far as to say that, “The discoverer of the role of forgiveness in the realm of human affairs was Jesus of Nazareth.” That is quite a claim.

Jesus changed the way we value people. The hymn Amazing Grace was written by John Newton, a slave trader who became a Christian as a result of a miracle on his ship. He continued to trade in slaves for years after his conversion but eventually God changed his heart, and he wrote a scathing pamphlet read by every member of the British Parliament, entitled, “Thoughts Upon the Slave Trade.” He said, “It will always be a subject of humiliating reflection to me, that I was once an active instrument in a business at which my heart now shudders.” It was a Christian emperor who banned gladiator fights, and it has been Christian missionaries who have helped humans end the practice of cannibalism.

Christians have made some of the most profound scientific discoveries. One of the biggest misconceptions of our faith that somehow science and Christianity stand in opposition to each other, when in fact, Christianity promotes the idea of a rational God as Intelligent Designer. We consider our God the inventor of the scientific laws discovered by Christian scientists — Galileo, Keppler, Boyle, Pascal, Pasteur, Newton, Schaeffer. Stanley Jaki was a physicist who famously developed the theory that, “modern scientific inquiry cannot only exist alongside religion, but that modern science only could have arisen within a Christian society.” Francis Bacon said he practiced science as a way to learn more about God. He wrote, “A little philosophy inclines man’s mind to atheism, but depth in philosophy brings men’s minds about to religion.”

What Christians believe has fundamentally changed the course of human history. The change was in process with the Jewish people, but Jesus — the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ — changed everything. And because of that, our day to day circumstances are not the ground of our hope. The only circumstances in which we can place hope are the circumstances surrounding the birth, death & resurrection of Jesus, and on our acceptance of those circumstances. If we place our hope in anything else, we set ourselves up for disappointment.

This is the message of Christmas. It is a message to the world that our Messiah has come and his coming changes everything at the most basic level. This baby changes my value, changes my capacity for forgiveness, changes my personality, changes my potential for understanding the world around me. This Son of God has chosen to reside in my heart, and in the hearts of all who invite him, and claiming that as my hope … changes everything.

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