Thursday, December 26, 2013

Jesus

A story for all times

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.— Isaiah 9: 6

Okay, who can read that verse without immediately hearing it belted out in the Hallelujah Chorus? I know I can’t. It’s been years since we have been to a performance of Handel's Messiah. Thanks to the wonders of the internet this morning I got to listen to it performed by the Royal Choral Society of London. It brought me to tears. King of kings, Lord of Lords, he reigns forever and ever. When I feel anything but joyful at this time of year, all I need do is remember what we celebrate – a humble yet royal birth, and who we celebrate ­– Christ born of Mary, Savior and Redeemer.
Jesus is the center of Christmas, but he is so much more. His birth, life, death and resurrection are beyond reason and outside the realm of our understanding. Think about it. God so loved insane, pig-headed, selfish humanity so much he gave himself in a most mind-boggling way. We are his. He made sure of our redemption by becoming as we are, human and subject to human frailty, and yet he was divine, able to give us a vision of ourselves we could never have imagined: we can be compassionate, merciful, loving, selfless and giving. We can never achieve Christ’s perfection, but we aren’t required to. All we are asked is to believe and live in keeping with God’s will. Christ in the manager was also Christ on the Cross. The significance of each is God’s compelling love, outside our understanding, beyond our imagination, ours not because of who we are, but because God loves us, just as we are.
In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. Luke 2:1, 4-5 NIV
It had to take a lot of courage and faith to make a long journey with a pregnant woman, one who carried a child not of your seed, but of your heart because you were following your instructions from of all things, an angel. None of us can understand Joseph’s heart and mind as he made this trip and we can only guess at Mary’s discomfort and maybe even fear; fear for her unborn child, fear for herself, and fear for her future. And yet this couple visited by angels telling them of a common event – the birth of a child – made the trek, unaware the birth would have uncommon consequences: awe and celebration of the shepherds; terror in the heart of despotic king. The Christ child changed lives, and he changed the world. And it's still happening.
Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” Luke 2:11-14
The greatest story ever told isn’t simply a story; it is a truth that sustains us in all of life. We have been given a great gift. It is a living reminder that in all of life we have hope. We are not alone. We are not abandoned. We are God’s. He loved us so much he gave us his Son, the incarnate Christ, to live among us, teach us and open us up to grace unimaginable. We are God’s children, and brothers and sisters of the child born of Mary. Living in families. Struggling with unexpected news. Living in faith. Growing in trust. We are blessed because of the blessed birth; we are redeemed by the Redeemer. Even when we do not know the questions, we know the answer.
Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying: “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.” Luke 2:28-32 NIV
Our future is assured, not because of anything we can do, but because of the babe in the manger and his place at God’s side. He gave up his place of perfection to live as we live, to see the corruption of the times and not be swayed, to teach and touch those in need of a new vision, a redeemer and healer. He made no claims he could not substantiate and listened without condemnation to those who would bring him down. “Not my will but thy will,” he prayed in his final hours of freedom. Now as we head into the New Year we can be assured that the Christmas spirit is not simply one of generosity nor is it seasonal, it is one freedom, freedom to live in joy knowing our future is assured – not to mean perfect, but in the hands of one who loves us so much he gave us is son.
Live in joy. Believe the promise: "Be strong, banish fear and doubt. Remember, the Lord your God is with you wherever you go." Joshua 1:9
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Grace


 Grace beyond words

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Colossians 3:12

Among the chosen. How awesome is that? God in his glory, fully realized in every sense of the word, powerful beyond imagining, greater than anything human minds can conceive, creator and author of all of life, in all of the cosmos, God has chosen to love me. I am struck speechless at the idea of it, knowing full well I haven’t deserved this love and have at times forgotten that it is there, holding me up, protecting me in the storms of life, taking it as my due. God’s love for me is singular. It is based on his infinite love for his creation: me. The thing is that although it is singular to me, it is also singular to every person who calls upon his name. His choice. His love revealed in the form of a wee babe. Amazing grace beyond words.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Believe

The Bread of Life

"Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” John 6:35 NIV

Not a holiday, a holy day. Christmas has become a crazy time of excess on many levels. We find ourselves caught up in activities that drain our spirits and make us irritable. All that should be joyous becomes a part of what drags us down. The Christmas Spirit become the Christmas sprint, and whatever you do, don’t make too big a deal about Christ. Christmas as we know it hasn’t been around all that long, but its development as a commercial venture has exploded along with online shopping and deals to buy, buy, buy. Jesus has been pushed aside in favor of Santa Claus. Jesus is not an icon of commercialism. Maybe that's why he is tucked inside nativity scenes and promptly forgotten. His messages of peace and tolerance, self-discipline and faith don't coincide with the Black Friday mentality. In truth he was a man who was God, and God who was a man. On this earth he lived as humanly as any of us. In the end he was not permanently bound to the Christmas story as fictionalized by pop culture. He said he is the bread of life, and that hasn’t changed.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Faith


The Light of the world: A promise kept

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. Isaiah 11:1-3
A restless night filled with fears named and unnamed. Horrifying moments of desperation. We all experience those times when answers don’t come easily and solutions seem impossible. Psalm 30:5 reads, “For his anger endureth but a moment; in his favor is life: weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.” This verse reminds us that ultimately God is in charge. Our night terrors are of our making. Our times of worry put us in a state of fretfulness and confusion. The morning sun shines light into our lives just at the Son of God brought light into the world. We can’t do a single thing at night to solve our problems, yet we pick away at them swelling our minds with disaster after disaster. Morning light brings relief. Faith is the morning light that can and will shine 24/7. We can trust in the Lord to lift us and carry us through. When we fret we forget God. When we have faith we are filled with his illuminating presence, revealed so beautifully in the Christ child.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Joy


The First Noel

I will praise the Lord all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live. Psalm 146: 2

I love Christmas carols. There is a purity to them that is moving and joyous. The melodies are gently harmonious and the words uplifting. You cannot listen to a Christmas carol without smiling or feeling your heart swell or your eyes tear up with joy, at least I can’t.
Christmas carols emphasize the hope that came into the world with the birth of Christ. They paint vivid pictures of the magnificence of God’s love and his ability to touch the lowborn and the highborn.
Everyone can relate to the Christ child, from the first wondrous moment when a baby sees a candle flicker on Christmas night to the oldster who is lighting it as a symbol of Jesus, the light of the world.
It is easy to get caught up in the ritual of Christmas and in the secular buying craze that goes on. We put emphasis on giving and getting rather than celebrating the lowly birth that would forever change the world.
Christmas carols call us back and remind us that angels proclaimed the coming of the Lord and told shepherds where to find the babe. Kings traveled for weeks in foreign lands to reach the humble place of Christ’s birth. Carols remind us of the true meaning of the holiday. 
 

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Prayer


Tis the Season

Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. Mark 11:4
Even at his most desperate King David found time to pray, honoring God and acknowledging his prominent place in David's life. The enemy was at his door. He prayed. He made unwise choices. He asked forgiveness. He turned his back on the teachings of God to get his own way. In the end, when it all went to pieces, he prayed. Pray any time and for any reason. God is the all-powerful, the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. He does indeed know what's going on. But do we? Through prayer we gain strength and understanding. Prayer isn't incidental to our lives; it is essential. God in His heaven; Christ in our hearts; the Holy Spirit an infusing force. Pray any time and for any reason. Prayer is always in season.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Faith


In His Hands

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. (Hebrews 11:1)

The times we need faith most are the times we have our greatest fears. Will God take care of this? Does he fully comprehend how bad… worrisome… unmanageable… sorrowful… depressing… distressing… my life is? Why would He care enough to do anything? Maybe He wants ME to take care of it. And then you start thinking of all the ways you will “fix” your problems without Him, often making things worse, much worse. Faith doesn’t mean sitting on the sidelines and doing nothing. It does mean prayerfully including God in every decision and trusting Him to give you wisdom and discernment. How life turns out from day to day is in His hands. Faith is the most powerful tool of the believer. Faith is the means by which you will get through it all.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Faith: Take wing and fly


Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Hebrews 12:2
In “The Screwtape Letters,” C.S. Lewis writes, “It does not matter how small the sins are provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the man away from the Light and out into the Nothing. Murder is no better than cards if cards can do the trick. Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one-–the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.”
Mother Theresa wrote, “Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin.”
The message from both these inspirational writers is about faith. Remaining faithful; being courageous in faith; willing to step outside your comfort zone in faith; faithfully resisting that which takes you away from the Light; and standing on faith when the world is falling apart around you.
Lewis returned to his Christian imperative in his thirties. With his new-found faith he wrote compelling narratives calling attention to how the world can shape who we are when we lose faith, not necessarily all at once, but rather by dribs and drabs, an undone thing here, an unkind or thoughtless word there.
Mother Theresa dedicated her entire life to serving the helpless and the hopeless, stepping out in faith, not that all would be well, but that she had a job to do and that job was right in front of her to be done now. Not later, not tomorrow, not when she had time, but now, in this moment. Today.
Faith in the God of all takes us out of our self-imposed prison of ennui and gives us wings.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Believe


Look to the Light 

When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12

Compassion and mercy sound good in theory, until someone you love disappoints you time and again, and you feel guilt and remorse because your parenting skills were woefully lacking. The adult son who struggles with addiction or anger issues seems flawed beyond redemption. The adult daughter, whose poor choices lead her into one abusive relationship after another, from which you cannot – despite your best effort – extricate her. Where does this behavior come from? You did the best job you could, and yet these disappointing examples of your bad parenting are like a shadow on your life.   

Perhaps that’s where the problem begins and ends. The lives of these people you love are based on their personal choices, made outside of your influence, and not necessarily because of it. Perhaps your focus on the shadow obscures the Light. That’s where compassion and mercy abide, in the Light. Compassion means to have sympathy and concern for someone and to show kindness toward them. Mercy extends forgiveness and understanding. Nowhere in there does either of these exact guilt. Nor do they require you to “fix” the other person. Nowhere does it say you need not have compassion and mercy for yourself. God is at work. Know it. Believe it. Live it. Grace abounds, not because of who we are, but because of who God is.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Faith


Learn from the Lord and Lean on Him   

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Matthew 11:27-29
It’s easy to carry around a load of discontent. Life doesn’t go you’re way so you blame God, or your husband, or your irritating neighbor, or your kids, or the most recent thing that didn’t go your way. You strap the anger and frustration on your back and head out into the day. They weigh you down taking the joy out of the good things that do happen and making the bad things even worse. You feel justified in your self-righteous choice to carry the load and add to it. You’ve been mistreated by gum and you have every right to be prickly and uncooperative, snappish and sad. Really? And you’re the only one who’s had a bad day, a bad week, a bad year? We carry our load. We make that choice. We can make a different choice, one that rids us of our burden and takes the weight of discontent off our backs. That choice is Jesus. Find rest in him.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Prayer


God's unknowable plan 

Luke 22:42 – “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.”

Do you pray believing? The strength of prayer is less about the words we choose and much more about the depth of our belief. Impossible outcomes do happen, because they are only impossible in our sight, not God’s. Having written those lines I will  insert the common questions about how, when and why, or in some cases “if” God will indeed answer your prayer, or mine for that matter. Horrific and devastating events do happen, and often after we have prayed our hearts out for a particular outcome. The words I come back to as reassurance and instruction are found in Luke 22:42 – “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” Jesus, knowing what was ahead, gave himself into God’s hands – “not my will, your will.” Pray believing, trusting in God’s unknowable plan, His will, not yours, not mine, His.
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Friday, July 19, 2013

Faith


A second Wind

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Philippians 4:13

How strong are you? How important is it for you to be strong? In what ways would your life be better if you could battle every foe, overcome every obstacle, win every race, endure every heartache, beat all the odds and always be a winner? You already have within your grasp the wherewithal to be that person, not out of pride or a desire to win, but out of faith and a desire to trust. God with us is our saving grace, the one who lifts us when fall, embraces us when we are lonely and chilled by the winters of life. He keeps us above the fray. He gives us our second wind when we are breathless with fear and uncertainty and helps us finish the race, a winner not because of our efforts or because we finished first, but because we finished at all, with His help.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Trust


Be strong, banish fear and doubt. Remember the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. Joshua 1:9 

Don’t believe everything you read on the Internet. Really. Please. Don’t. So much is bandied about in the ether, a never-never land few of us understand, that it is imperative to be suspicious of what comes your way, especially in those massive forwarded messages. I appreciate the sentiment when someone forwards interesting links. They want to share something they believe is important, funny, informative or cute. Too frequently when I follow up and try to find the original source, it is often attributed incorrectly in the version I received, or not a real experience, but a tearjerker story a talented creative writer conjured up. Nor am I keen on the “Jesus Loves You” e-mails and links that imply that if I don’t forward this message on, I’m just not with the program, I’m not a real Christian, I’m sadly flawed because I don’t spread the word or keep the candle burning or plant another seed (or 20, which seems to be the magic number to assure my membership in the club of three percent who will pass it on). What I believe, and can find firm corroboration for in Biblical texts, is that Jesus loves me whether I pass on an e-mail link or not; this truth is the glue that binds together disparate people from all over the globe. I don’t need to forward an e-mail to assure me of my place in God’s love. I have God’s word, and that’s enough for me.

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Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Thanksgiving


Every Day a Celebration

So teach us to number our days, that we may get us a heart of wisdom. Psalm 90:12
Today is my birthday and this verse is a wake up call. My days are numbered, and I don’t know what that number is, but knowing this helps keep life in perspective. What I do today, counts. What I do in this moment will make a difference for me, and maybe for others. Being wise is the opposite of being careless. It’s treasuring all the people in life whom I love and who love me. It’s deciding every day to be kind instead of cruel, joyful rather than morose, thoughtful about what I say rather than caustic, generous in thought, word and deed, open minded yet steadfast and firm in my faith. I count each day a blessing, a gift to be opened with anticipation and care. On this day and every day I pray I have the good sense to make the most of it.
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Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Peace

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The price of freedom


Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,” says the Lord, who has compassion on you.

Isaiah 54:9-11 

As we celebrate our country’s independence perhaps it is also a time to evaluate another battle. This nation’s independence was won through sacrifice and perseverance. It was also paid for in blood. The lives of many have been lost in the name of freedom and democracy. So it has been historically and continues into today. Fighting a world away causes ripples in our lives making us feel less safe and more fearful. Battles for democracy in countries we can scarcely imagine rage as people try to break away from repressive rule.

A similar battle goes on in our lives every day. We are assaulted in countless ways by alluring messages that take us away from our faith. We are bombarded with reasons to question God’s plan for our lives and the world. We consider moral imperative to be repressive and confining. We want to be free of restrictive covenants and judgment. We want to do what we want to do, no matter the cost. Fortunately for us God is a vigilant protector. He provided for our salvation through the blood of our Savior. His Grace assures our pardon. The battle continues, but the Victor stands ready to lead us away from temptation and toward His light. Through prayer and praise we can find a place of peace even in the midst of conflict.


Friday, June 21, 2013

God's Promise

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Action Plan

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Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you. Yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand. Isaiah 41:10
What is the thing you most want to do today? Do it. 
Who in your life is hurting that you can help? Find them and reach out. 
How can you add to your spiritual knowledge base so when called upon you are fitted with the armor of faith? Take time for study and discernment. 
When in your day will you make time for renewal and reflection? Make it as important as any appointment on your calendar and stick with it. 
At what time and where will you be when trouble hits? Anywhere and anytime. Trouble is a surprise that happens at the least convenient moment.

God’s promise? To be with you wherever you go.
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Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Reach Out

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To understand is to grow

Psalm 119:34: Give me understanding, so that I may keep your law and obey it with all my heart.
In our desire to be self-sufficient, we forget that on our own we are alive but lifeless. We have no purpose except to please ourselves. When we turn to God and ask for the only help that matters, we begin to grow and look outside our own little world and look for ways to help those God puts into our paths. When we reach out we grow inside. When we look up our horizons expand. When we bow our heads in prayer we know we’ve made a connection, the most important connection of all. God loves us through the transitions in our lives, the good ones and the life lessons that can be wrenchingly painful. When we isolate ourselves with people who are just like we are, we never learn and grow. Only when we look to our neighbor and try to understand them can we see God’s plan at work, not just in us, and the people who are like us, but in all people everywhere

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Wednesday, June 12, 2013

God's Promise


10 Deciding Factors

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9
Trying to impress someone? Think you need to have the approval of your peers? Believe you can’t get by without a pat on the head? If you’re seeking the approval of other people you’ll be marginally successful, but to what end? How many times in your life have you been on the “right” side of an issue only to find your team had moved to the opposite position leaving you all alone? When we live by the Ten Commandments we find decision-making pretty clearly defined:

• I am the Lord your God; you will have no other gods before me. Seems pretty simple. If you’re worrying about the approval of others perhaps your focus is in the wrong place.

• Make no graven image to worship. Even I don’t want to go there, but I will. What idols do you worship? A new car? Designer clothing? Power? More money in the bank than you or your family can use in a lifetime? Me time? Another person? The list can be uncomfortably long. What is the decision here? Not putting your hope in the things and people of this world.

• Do not take the Lord’s name in vain. Let me ask this. If you have a choice between profane disrespect for the Lord’s name and honoring Him through word and deed, which is most likely to bring about the result you want? Negativity breeds negativity. Disrespect breeds disrespect.
• Remember the time-honored day of rest, for most that is Sunday. God needed a day off and I would imagine you and I do too. It is a time to give praise and thanks to the One to whom you belong.
• Honor your parents. An old fashioned concept? Perhaps, but it is the first step in creating and perpetuating a civil society.
• Don’t kill. Really not one that has to be discussed at length. Killing another human being is a no-no.
• Adultery. This one gets overlooked with a nod and sly grin. Given the number of crashed marriages and busted relationships attributed to ignoring marriage or relationship vows you’d think we would all be paying a little more attention. Adultery, like murder, is a no-no.
• Don’t steal. It is a burden you carry with you the rest of your life. The more you steal, the bigger the burden.
• Don’t lie about other people. Sometimes this is innocent (?) in that you are repeating something said about someone else. So maybe “don’t lie” about another person also means, don’t gossip about them either.
• Don’t covet that which belongs to someone else. When you want what someone else has, you’ve gotten off the track of your own life and where it can lead you.
The thing about the Ten Commandments is that even in this so-called modern world they still apply. You know what is even more astounding? When we break them – and we do – there is a promise that reminds us of God’s mercy, love and forgiveness: Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9
God is with us, even when we mess up.
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Monday, June 10, 2013

Hope


On Wings Like Eagles

“But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles, they will run and not grow weary; they will walk and not be faint.” Isaiah 40:31

The image conjured by Isaiah 40:31 is of one rising always rising, caught in the wind of the Holy Spirit, fearless, courageous and trusting. When I see the people of Newtown, Conn. standing firmly with their sisters and brothers as they heal day-by-day, moment-by-moment I see God at work. When I walk into a store and see collection boxes giving me the opportunity to help out in some way with the recovery efforts in Oklahoma following the brutal forces of nature, I am lifted up. When I hear tolerance spoken in word and deed I am changed. I read somewhere that scary events do happen, that is a fact of life. Fear is a choice. We can let circumstances defeat us or make us stronger. I choose this day to soar like an eagle, to run and not grow weary, walk and not be faint lifted and sustained by the Holy Spirit, God with us.