We hid many of Nick's Christmas presents in plain sight this year. Every day for two weeks he walked by a scantily clad marshmallow shooter sitting on a shelf in the garage. His ukelele, head up and hushed, hid among tennis rackets. His new workout equipment lay in a bin by the door. Gifts exposed, but undetected.
A friend shared how the power outages from a recent ice storm here in Arkansas drove her three-year-old television-deprived child into her lap for a long conversation in front of the fire. They quietly conversed and he fell asleep in her arms. Mother and child, sharing the space of a house, yet driven close to be blessed by the chill.
Romans 1 declares God "hides" in plain sight, yet people refuse to see Him, acknowledge Him, crawl into His lap, or even thank Him.
"The truth about God is plain to them.
God has made it plain.
Ever since the world was created
it has been possible to see the qualities of God that are not seen.
I’m talking about His eternal power and about the fact that He is God.
Those things can be seen in what He has made.
So people have no excuse for what they do.
They knew God. But they didn’t honor Him as God.
They didn’t thank Him. Their thinking became worthless.
Their foolish hearts became dark.
They claimed to be wise. But they made fools of themselves.
God, Immanuel, plainly present with us, should inspire our worship and gratitude. Sadly, we prefer to stay busily distracted. Our foolish hearts darken with overdoses of gadgets and lesser goals. Outside, stars wink God's love to us but instead of winking back, we move indoors to listen to the puny opinions of people who don't acknowledge Him or know Him. Trees raise their branches in praise to their Creator, yet we fail to thank Him for life. While Love waits to wrap us and rock us, we love what doesn't love back.
Lord, don't let us miss what's in plain sight or waste another opportunity to see You, to praise You, to worship You, to thank You. We lift our hands and hearts to say "Glory to the God of all that is - Who created gift after gift placed in plain sight." Thank You for families, jobs, shelter, love, hugs, kisses, closeness, friends, working bodies, functioning brains, changes in weather, books, pets, covers, heat, windows, wood, taste buds, water, and babies. Just counting the blessings in plain sight lightens loads and opens eyes to see more of You.
"We, of course, have plenty of wisdom to pass on to you once you get your feet on firm spiritual ground, but it’s not popular wisdom, the fashionable wisdom of high-priced experts that will be out-of-date in a year or so. God’s wisdom is something mysterious that goes deep into the interior of His purposes. You don’t find it lying around on the surface. It’s not the latest message, but more like the oldest—what God determined as the way to bring out His best in us, long before we ever arrived on the scene. The experts of our day haven’t a clue about what this eternal plan is." 1 Corinthians 2:6-8a (The Message)
The word "new" seems to appear more frequently than any other word on magazine covers. Are we so jaded and old that we've seen it all and demand a constant diet of "new news?" When the "new" wears off one idea, style or diet, we mob the next new:
Mentor Motivational Speaker Personal Trainer Professor Expert Counselor Talk Show Host Therapists Author Spiritual Guide Guru . . . and even the occasional Actor. The world wants help. We need help. But what kind of help do we seek? Help to be: Happier? Healthier? Calmer? Richer? Smarter? Saner? Popular? None of these goals are inherently evil, but they're all second-rate, shallow attempts at melting the iceberg tip of our deepest cravings for: Joy Wholeness Peace Security Truth Love Belonging We have trouble accepting the consistently good-for-us answers found in the: Ancient of Days Great Physician Prince of Peace King of Heaven and Earth Way, Truth and Life Abba Creator God Who Reigns Holy Righteous Rock of Ages A New Year is coming. May we plant our feet on the spiritual ground of the Old path for real answers, true growth, and authentic glory. Father, God - You remain the Answer to every question, the hope for every need. May we cut through the "new" and fashionable answers to find You, Who are the same yesterday , today and tomorrow, but Whose mercies are new every morning! Remind us that You are news to the majority of the world. Mold our hearts and minds to walk with You and to hunt for Your roadside treasures along the way. In the Name of Jesus - Author of Truth and Giver of Life
Here with me is an oversized mug of steaming coffee with Van Gogh's "Starry, Starry Night" wrapped around it. The mug was a gift from Tom when we made a trip to Dallas for a music conference 16 years ago. My sweet husband doesn't like coffee but he bought a piping hot cup for me along with this souvenir. Sturdy and deep, it holds enough to allow ponderings, meditations and writings to roll without an excessive number of refill breaks. Other similar mugs wait on their wide flat bottoms behind the warm wood of my kitchen cabinet above the dishwasher. Cleansed and stored, they're in easy reach. Many of their generous exteriors offer encouraging Scriptures. Could a day start with any better foundation than these? "‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and love our neighbor as yourself.’" Luke 10:27 "I can do all things through Christ Who strengthens me," Philippians 4:13 "This is the day the Lord has made, I will rejoice and be glad in it," Psalm 118:24 Meanwhile, dainty teacups gather dust in the china cabinet and high on kitchen shelves. When disturbed by heavy steps or by intruders searching for the butter dish, they rattle reminders of their frailness. Lovely to look at, they're easily broken and rarely used. Even the sturdier ones demand to be refilled too often to be of much use. In addition, teacups demand a saucer for their tiny bottoms. They're finicky and must be set gently in the exact center circle of the saucer or they slip and slide and spill. These beautiful little divas seem to demand more attention than the joy and good they give. Lord, make me a mug! Lord, Make us mugs with insides big enough to fill with Your warmth and Presence. Make our arms wide to hold and love others. Mold us into vessels You delight to use - accessible, cleansed, and waiting. Forgive us when You reach for us and we rattle noisily in Your Hands. We don't want to be dependent on others or demanding of others, but filled with You to bless them and to bless You. May our presence remind them of You and encourage them to look to You to strengthen them. In the Name of Jesus, Who fills our cups (or mugs) to overflowing!
If we didn't know how things turned out for Mary and her unplanned pregnancy, we might have more questions, like when did she break the news to those closest to her? Rushing in to tell them the "good news" could have had her declared a liar, stoned as a law-breaker, institutionalized as mentally unstable, ostracized for immorality, or kept in a secure environment so the neighbors would never hear her blasphemous claims. In His perfect wisdom, God chose the eye-witness Gabriel to provide the exact message Mary needed to broach the topic with a relative.
"Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month." Luke 1:36
Gabriel himself had revealed to Zechariah, Elizabeth's husband, their own miracle of a coming son. These days we learn of pregnancies moments, even seconds, after parents get a positive test, but in those days, family news trickled from town to town through the occasional traveler. Gabriel provided clear, precise facts for Mary: "Elizabeth," "old age," "said to be unable to conceive," and "in her sixth month of pregnancy."
This information accomplished several purposes for Mary:
First: They served as the pinch Mary needed to assure her what Gabriel told her was true. Elizabeth's pregnancy was something she could see for herself that would wave away any fog she had concerning a baby in her own future.
Second: The timing of Gabriel's visit and the facts he provided gave Mary direction. With three months until Elizabeth's due date, she could travel from Galilee to Judea to visit her. If Gabriel had come sooner, Elizabeth might not be so visually pregnant. If he had arrived later, Mary might have debated whether or not to risk the trip since virgins weren't allowed in homes when women delivered babies. But, because of God's perfect timing, she didn't have to think long.
Third: There would be questions and eventually a time to answer those questions. However, God first provided a safe place - safe physically, emotionally and spiritually - for Mary to process and ponder her position and Who was coming. With Elizabeth and Zechariah she could express aloud what she could not express to anyone else. This couple would be the only people on earth who would, could believe and understand her story without a shred of doubt or condemnation.
Fourth: Elizabeth was six months pregnant. Elizabeth - advanced beyond the conception years, was expecting a child. What other miracle could have been so perfectly designed to lift Mary's faith to the next level? She was a woman who needed a woman who could relate, who could help her accept and embrace God's Power and invasive Presence in her personal space and world.
Elizabeth didn't disappoint:
"At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the Child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill His promises to her!” Luke 1:39-45 And Mary, sweet little girl-woman Mary, could finally sing out the song she had hoped she could sing from the moment Gabriel had revealed the Father's plan.
“My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for He has been mindful of the humble state of His servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me— holy is His name. His mercy extends to those who fear Him, from generation to generation. He has performed mighty deeds with His arm; He has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. He has helped His servant Israel,
to Abraham and his descendants forever, remembering to be merciful
just as He promised our ancestors.” Luke 1:46-55 With these praises and celebrations, two Holy Spirit filled women began a three-month fellowship retreat. I would love to have been a New Testament fly on that Judean wall. Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months and then returned home. Luke 1: 56
Lord, thank You for the cloud of witnesses You provide to lift our faith to new levels. May we go to those You send us to be blessed by them, and may we open our hearts to those who come to us for encouragement when You've called them to walk hard paths. Use Your children to bring out the best in one other. Guide us to praise You with our words - aloud and with enthusiasm for the very real gifts You give. In the Name of Jesus, the Child Whose birth story begins and ends with a journey
Picture the fishermen disciples in their fishing boat facing a strength-gaining storm. They've used up all their ideas, their knowledge, their prowess, their skill to solve the problem, but even 2,000 years later we don't know how to stop a storm. Then lightning reveals a figure walking calmly toward them on the water. Jesus.
Feel the heat as Shadrach, Meshack and Abednego are hustled closer to the fiery furnace and see soldiers ahead of them fall dead from the intensity of the blaze. A quick, hard push and the flames lick impotently at their tender flesh. And Who stands waiting for them? God In Flesh - the Fourth Man in the fiery furnace - Jesus. Nowhere in Scripture does it say "If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen." Nor was Christ a proponent of "self-made men." These ideas drip off proud human tongues. God installs the furnaces, throws down challenges and commissions us to helpless positions for one reason: to reveal Himself as our shelter, our asbestos, our Hope, our Friend and our God. Paul learned to see his weakness as a God-gift and found Christ walking with him in his own storms and furnaces. Notice the phrase "the gift of a handicap." Because of the extravagance of those revelations, and so I wouldn’t get a big head, I was given the gift of a handicap to keep me in constant touch with my limitations. Satan’s angel did his best to get me down; what he in fact did was push me to my knees. No danger then of walking around high and mighty! At first I didn’t think of it as a gift, and begged God to remove it. Three times I did that, and then He told me, 'My grace is enough; it’s all you need. My strength comes into its own in yourweakness.' Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness. Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size— abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become. 2 Corinthians 12:8-10 (The Message - italics are mine) I can't. You can't. We all can't. God can. When it's all too much, too big, too intense, too rocky, too sticky, too uncertain - remember our weaknesses are Grace-gifts. Praise God, He's about to reveal Himself through our humble obedience. Lord, help us stop focusing on our handicaps, comparing our strengths, and expecting ourselves to be anything but limited humans. You designed us to be needy and weak so we would run to You. May we be like the three who faced the furnace, allowing You to reveal Yourself through our obedience. Guide us not to turn molehills into mountains (and many of our "crises" are molehills) but help us stand down as You move the mountains. In the Name of Jesus Who revealed Your Glory through His obedience
"This act in Cana of Galilee was the first sign Jesus gave, the first glimpse of His glory. And His disciples believed in Him." John 2:11
Tuesday night, we ventured out on one of our traditional family outings: driving through Chick-fil-A for peppermint chocolate chip milkshakes all 'round before hunting for Christmas lights. We found the house we were looking for, parked, tuned in on the radio, sat back, and enjoyed the 10-15 minute synchronized light show. It was spectacular - ranging from mellow "Silent Night" to the rockin' Transiberian Orchestra version of the "Nutcracker Suite." As impressed as we were by the light show, it was through the children's voices quoting the Christmas story from the Gospel of Luke that we heard a glimpse of God's glory. Sweet innocence stumbling through the more difficult words, telling the precious story of another Child.
Wednesday night a mighty wind roared through our area and didn't run out of breath until late afternoon. Morning revealed bare trees dangling occasional nest knots. Clouds tumbleweeded across the sky. Temperatures dropped to below freezing by nightfall. I believe in the God who uses wind to remind us of His power, His Presence, the transformations He can make over time, over night or in the twinkling of an eye. Blustery wind, racing clouds, heat and cold, sunstreaks of orange, pink and purple - all glimpses of God's glory.
Thursday night brought more glimpses of God. For three years running, we've enjoyed a new Arkansas Christmas tradition: travelling to Garvan Woodland Gardens to hear the "Hallelujah Handbells" play in Anthony Chapel.
The chapel, constructed of wood and glass, re-decorates itself each season. For Christmas, a bare evergreen, God's creation minus artificial lights and ornaments, rises front and center. At night, amber-hued lighting soothes and the place calls for reflection and praise. Seated in back of the crowded chapel, we heard the bells sing, flickering with visual sparks of light, motion, and harmony.
As our friends rang the bells, something rang true in me: God rings the bells of His glory on a day-to-day basis. Christmas simply provides more opportunities to catch a wider variety of glimpses.
It's no wonder Satan wants us squabbling and distracted during the holidays (holy days). Christmas enlightens us when we throw off all that encumbers and blinds us to hearing the bells and catching glimpses of God's glory. When we looked for them in the lights, we also heard them in children's voices. When we felt for them by our fireside, we also found them in inclement weather. And, when we listened for them in the bells, we also saw them in flashes of light feflecting from the moving bells to the back of the chapel.
Lord, it is good to praise You.
Most High God, it is good to make music to honor You.
It is good to sing every morning about Your love. It is good to sing every night about how faithful You are. I sing about it to the music of the lyre that has ten strings. I sing about it to the music of the harp. Lord, You make me glad by what You have done. I sing with joy about the works of Your hands. Lord, how great are the things You do! How wise Your thoughts are! Psalm 92:1-5
Father, I've been looking for that Christmas feeling while You've been ringing bells, blowing cold and whispering to me in children's voices. Father, we surrender the need for magic and artificiality we add to Your glory. Like Peter, we want to build temples when You've already provided the mountaintop. Open our eyes and ears to Your music and guide us to respond with the music of praise. In the Name of Jesus, Precious Child, Loving Lamb, Music of Heaven
Those who are persecuted for righteousness are blessed, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs. Matthew 5:9-11
"You have been raised up with Christ. So think about things that are in heaven. That is where Christ is. He is sitting at God’s right hand." Colossians 3:1
Last night, the first and second grade children's choir sang a song called "Abba, Father." The truth in these words, sung in their sweet child-voices served as a life preserver in the storm of news from Connecticut this week.
"You're the God of all the ages,
The beginning and the end,
Omnipotent and mighty -
I cannot understand.
But I can call to You in worship And You hear this one small voice.
Your love and peace surround me,
And in wonder I rejoice!
Abba Father! Abba Father!
You hear me when I call You
And I know I'm not alone!
Abba Father! Abba Father!
You love me like a child and I'm Your own.
While I know many well-meant words of comfort are being sent Northeast, many aren't based in Truth. There's no Scriptural evidence or indication that people become angels in heaven or that God calls us to heaven because He needs another angel in His choir. The Truth is better than that: We'll see God face-to-Face and the Face we see will erupt in a joy so great that we'll want to stay at His Feet praising Him forever. No more tears or separation, no more night. Isn't that the greatest comfort? To be home in God's Presence, safe from evil and from heartache?
Someone once held a gun to my head and it was terrifying, but only for a second before a tremendous peace engulfed me. I knew I stood on one side of the door to God's Presence and sensed Him on the other side. If I know anything about myself, I know I'm not brave on my own, but those seconds transitioning from fear to peace were real. My experience comforts me when similar tragedies strike other believers. I believe those 20 children knew this peace as the door to heaven opened for them. In the twinkling of an eye, they surrounded Abba Father and He became everything to them - Father, Teacher, Life, Breath and Purpose. We don't have to euphemize or fictionalize: our Hope is real.
"Your faith and love are based on the hope you have. What you hope for is stored up for you in heaven. You have already heard about it. You were told about it when the message of truth was given to you. I’m talking about the good news." Colossians 1:5
Like you, I've been stunned since hearing the news from Newtown, Connecticut. How? Why? Uncertain of how to feel or think, I turned to an unusual devotional book I've used and shared with others since my college days, Come Away My Beloved, by Frances J. Roberts. The book is written like Jesus Calling, by Sarah Young, as it provides a first-person voice for God backed by Scripture. Asking God to direct me, I let the book open where it would and shuddered as I read a "random" selection titled "Lie Not Dormant." "My child, I have need of thee. . . Thou canst not lie idle without hindering the ministry of the Church as a corporate body . . . . For we know that the whole world lieth in a sleep of death in the lap of the wicked one, as a child napping unsuspecting in a death-trap." People are looking for explanations and for someone to blame for Adam Lanza, a 20-year-old with no violent record, forcing his way into a school and taking human lives, shooting kindergarten children. Ironically, when tragedy strikes, people who once showed God the door then blame Him for the evil seeping and creeping in where He was once at home. Do we blame the schools for lack of security? The government for lack of help for the mentally ill? The media for giving so much attention to criminals who commit heinous crimes? Peers who may have mocked, bullied or ostracized Lanza? Parents who underestimated the seriousness of Lanza's remoteness? Could believers, you and I, be to blame for hindering love? "But be thou watchful and diligent and alert, for the time is at hand. . . keep thyself free for the guidance and use of the Spirit of God, even as He directeth thee moment by moment." "Be not overcome of evil but squeeze out the unprofitable things with an abundance of good." Blame abounds, but I wonder if we understand Jesus taught us how to stem the tide of these types of scenarios from playing out in our towns, in our schools, theaters and churches. What if, instead of huddling with our own and keeping the "bad kids" out we worked to create a New Town as: Parents teach our children by example to reach out to the kids on the fringes? Believers open our homes - to the problem children, to the unloved and unloveable, to the rejected, and the least likely to succeed - to show them Christ? Christian young people insist on youth programs to emphasize activities for anyone and everyone instead of focusing on expensive entertainment? Churches spend more time, resources, and hospitality building relationships with unreached people in our own neighborhoods and communities, even as we place an offering in the plate for international missions? "Be not overcome of evil but squeeze out the unprofitable things with an abundance of good." “Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven. " Matthew 5:14-16 (The Message) Lord, God, help us. Your children have slept through so many negative, anti-You cultural changes without responding. Please, don't let Satan trick us into withdrawing even further into our "safe zones." Use the horror and loss of this tragedy to compel us into action, into lighting the places You've placed us with Your Light. Father, wake us up and keep us alert to how You want to use us - for the time is at hand. Don't let evil overcome us, but help us overcome evil with abundance on abundance of good. In the Name of Jesus, Who holds the children in His loving, safe Arms
It's the most wonderful time of the year, but it's slipping by quickly. How do we slow it down to savor the moments and truly celebrate Christmas in 2012?
I've found I can't manufacture that wonderful feeling, I can only allow it and it usually takes me by surprise. You and I have lived through enough Christmasses to know which parts invite hushed worship, holy thoughts, shimmering light and the joyful peace of goodwill toward all people.
Be still and know that I am God.
Magnify God with other believers: Mary, alone and pregnant, accepted Elizabeth's words and expressions of encouragement and the women magnified God together. Two women, - one too young and virginal to be expecting and the other too old and past her time for conceiving - both willing, both giving God His due. Find a friend and forget Frosty. Magnify the Lord.
Be still and know that I am God.
Step outside tonight, look up, feel small and be awed that the Great Creator of the Universe came as a baby to save you and yours and all the rest of us bumbling innkeepers who say there's no room. Last night I stepped outside to see the meteor shower but saw something even more amazing: the clear night sky with Orion's belt and one bright star we could see every night, if we don't fail to notice.
Be still and know that I am God.
Prepare your favorite warm drink, light a candle, sit in a cozy place and let the warmth seep through you, pondering that Jesus came as Immanuel (God with us) and ascended so the Holy Spirit could live and breathe in us. Actively remember we are one with this great God Who seeps through us, longing for relationship with us.
Be still and know that I am God.
Honor God by giving generously: food to the poor, gifts to orphans, clothing to the naked, teaching to those who don't know Him, listening ears to children, attention to the unloveable, patience to the irritating, carols to neighbors, big tips to servers, room for the drivers or shoppers in a hurry, prayers for prisoners, hospitality to the lonely and alone, gratitude to God for everything always.
“Then the people who have done what is right will answer him. ‘Lord,’ they will ask, ‘when did we see you hungry and feed you? When did we see you thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you as a stranger and invite you in? When did we see you needing clothes and give them to you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“The King will reply, ‘What I’m about to tell you is true. Anything you did for one of the least important of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’
“The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer fit to be called your son.’
“But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattest calf and kill it. Let’s have a big dinner and celebrate. This son of mine was dead. And now he is alive again. He was lost. And now he is found.’" Luke 15:21-24
I was a third-grader the first time I recognized God's grace pouring over and through "such a wretch" as I. Pantsuits were the newest and neatest little outfits a girl could have and I didn't own one. Audrey did, though. Angelic Audrey always seemed to have what caught our teacher's eye and approval. She was tiny and had Shirley Temple curls, a little purse that held tissues and a tube of Chapstick, and her mother was the PTA chairperson, wielding Audrey inexplicable power over teachers and administrators.
One Friday, Audrey showed up in a red pantsuit. When I heard our sweet, beautiful teacher exclaim, "What an adorable pantsuit!"" as adorable Audrey twirled with an "I'm adored" glow, the green-eyed monster arose within my eight-year-old heart and I bit into the apple (a green one, I'm sure). Jealousy led to lying as I tapped my teacher on the arm to say, "I have a pantsuit (lie) - a blue one (lies, all lies) - it's at home and I'll wear it Monday (liar, liar, pantsuit's on fire!)." My teacher smiled and said, "Oh, I can't wait to see it!" That's when the apple bit back.
Welcome to the longest bus ride in history. The bumps in the road were nothing compared to the pounding I experienced sweating out my sin and my dilemma between Kennesaw Elementary and Melody Lane. Monday, hateful day, smothered me against the window as I contemplated the trap I had created. Closing my eyes, I saw myself sneaking through the classroom door on Monday. But, my teacher would spot me with the eyes in the back of her head and run to me in eager anticipation. Then as the awful truth hit her that I wasn't wearing a pantsuit of any color, confusion and disappointment would cover her face and gradually turn to horror as she realized she had a liar in her class. I would, of course, spend the rest of the school year under a table in the back of the room wearing a sign and probably a dunce hat.
What had I done? What could I do?
I prayed. "God, I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. I lied. I'm sorry. Make her forget what I said. I'll never lie again, if You'll just make her forget what I said and don't let her ever say anything about a pantsuit."
It never once occurred to me that God might have another way of dealing with His little liar. Never once. My family bought clothes at the beginning of the school year, sometimes Christmas, Easter, and maybe for birthdays. I limited God to my eight-year-old way of thinking and could never have imagined forgiveness with grace for such an outright sin.
When I arrived home, glum and weighted down, my mother seemed excited. She escorted me to my room where a navy blue pantsuit lay across my bed. My heart burst - with relief and gratitude. Mama probably didn't know what to think about my reaction, since I enjoyed clothes but had never swooned over them. Did I say, "No, mother, I don't deserve this, for I have lied to my teacher and must suffer the consequences?" No way! I was too young not to appreciate the gift, the grace God (so obviously God through my mother) had laid on my bed for me.
The invisible God I went to church to worship; the bleeding Jesus on the cross; and the eerie Holy Ghost Who always watched me - all became the Friend of a most humble child that day. For the first time in my young life, I knew God wasn't out to get me and didn't delight in punishing His children. In fact, the God I fell in love with that day is the God Who goes beyond forgiving to pouring out blessing after blessing on His repentant, prodigal, lying children.
Don't be too mature, too sophisticated, too self-incriminating, too dignified, or too ridiculous not to take God's gifts when He gives them. Just humbly swoop and swoon.
"Jesus said, “What I’m about to tell you is true. You need to change and become like little children. If you don’t, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." Luke 18:3
"But God is faithful and fair. If we admit that we have sinned, he will forgive us our sins. He will forgive every wrong thing we have done. He will make us pure." 1 John 1:9
"Forgive us our sins, just as we also have forgiven those who sin against us." Matthew 6:12 When we offer our remorse, we do so with tender hope from trembling, pained spirits. If the receiver turns away coldly our suffering increases (but we knew that, didn't we?). If the receiver fails to acknowledge our offer or accepts it matter-of-factly, we're conflicted: we don't know whether our offer was genuinely received or whether it's being saved to shame or guilt us at a later date. Praise God for those who listen with both ears and open hearts to receive fully and gently our sincere apologies. Thank You, Lord, for those who offer solid forgiveness, putting the past behind them and us. These are the godly who leave no room to revisit the issue. These are the children of God who've matured beyond needing to pocket a bit resentment for future recrimination. These are the Christlike Who walk in His steps, forgiving fully, freely, purely and for always.
I want to be one of those people.
Lord, thank You for people who've learned to be good forgivers. Teach us to be gifted forgivers (although we hate the practice needed for this skill), as we begin with the thing we've held in our angry fists the longest. Thank You for Your example of forgiving with hope and love. Thank You for the richness, the fullness, the foreverness of Your forgiveness. In the Name of Jesus Who died to forgive us
People flock to the birth of a baby, to lay eyes on an armful of joy and the seed of a future. And, like Mary, we ponder.
Does a baby love us? Not yet. Does a baby do for us? Just the opposite. Does a baby make life easier? Hardly. A baby takes, receives, accepts - and all at a cost loving parents are more than willing to pay.
Jesus, Eternal Giver, entered the world as a newborn, taking and receiving what was offered to Him. He was a Baby who's conception caused speculation and scandal for Mary. Yet, she opened her hands and heart to what God offered her. Joseph swallowed his pride and held out his hand in marriage to a woman pregnant with someone Else's child. This couple's hands stayed busy preparing, packing and loading supplies for the difficult journey from home to Bethlehem. On reaching their destination, they opened their hands to the innkeeper's key to the stable, rather than receiving the key to a private, clean room.
The challenges and personal sacrifices Mary and Joseph made prepared their hands for the Miracle God placed there: the Key to His Kingdom, His own Son, the Christ, the Savior, the Messiah.
Open, hands! Receive what God offers. He's preparing you for more than this.
Lord, God, may we humble ourselves as Jesus did to become a Baby on the receiving end. May we live out the trusting humility Mary and Joseph did by opening our hands to whatever You offer. At the moment, we're concerned with giving: giving the right gift, giving enough, giving too much, giving just enough, but for today Lord, we open our hands to receive whatever You want to place in them. We lift our hands to You to fill. We love You for measuring out, for pouring out, for giving until our cups overflow with Your grace gifts, for only then can we give what matters and in the right Spirit.
In the Name of Jesus Who humbled Himself and stretched out His Hands to receive the sick, the lame, the poor, the sinners, and the nails.
“For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts." Isaiah 55:8-9 (NKJ)
Nick and I watched the Christmas classic "It's A Wonderful Life" last night - in black and white and without surround sound. Some would call it another form of child abuse, but I think the message is worth the pain.
About halfway through the movie, Nick asked, "Why is this considered a Christmas movie?" I hadn't thought about it, but at least 80 percent of the plot takes place during the non-Christmas majority of the year - where we live, where George Bailey lives with little to celebrate, or so he thinks.
Poor George never gets what he's sure he wants: to get out of his small hometown, Bedford Falls, to go anywhere else and do remarkable things. But, everyone else's needs and opportunities thwart his dreams. Stuck with menial and unglamorous duties in Bedford Falls, George confuses lack of adventure with lack of significance. He sees himself as a cog in the machinery until Clarence the angel lifts the veil and George glimpses why God placed him in Bedford Falls to hash out life.
We grab for a handfull of God for life's obvious crises and celebrations, but the plateaus seem to be where we forget our lives count. As faces in the crowd, we need to know God's working out His unfathomable purposes. ("Just remember this, Mr. Potter, that this rabble you're talking about... they do most of the working and paying and living and dying in this community.")
Most of us don't venture out as missionaries, evangelists, or Christian artists. Most of us feel like indistinguishable parts of the "rabble" of believers who worship, pray, praise, thank, sing, and give regularly. But God's Word promises what we do counts for Him, even if the veil hasn't been lifted as eye-proof. In God technology, even lives that seem black-and-white, with no surround sound, extend invisibly into other lives making us the richest people in town.
"Lament is a cry of belief in a good God, a God who has His ear to our hearts, a God who transfigures the ugly into beauty. Complaint is the bitter howl of unbelief in any benevolent God in this moment, a distrust in the love-beat of the Father's heart."
-Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts
Let's compare and contrast a complaint from the Bible with a lament from the Bible. The Israelites started out well but their cry to the Lord quickly evaporated into complaint.
" . . . They cried out to the LORD.
"Then they turned against Moses and complained,'Why did you bring us out here to die in the wilderness? Weren't there enough graves for us in Egypt? Why did you make us leave? Didn't we tell you to leave us alone while we were still in Egypt? Out Egyptian slavery was far better than dying out here in the wilderness!'" Exodus 14:11-12 The Israelites as they were trapped between the Egyptian army and the Red Sea
Note the Israelites immediately blamed someone nearby - they turned against Moses. Blaming and divisiveness signal complaint. They became sarcastic and spit out "told you so's" and recriminations. They even lied to themselves by painting their days of slavery as the good old days. They asked "Why? Why? Why?" but assume there's no answer. Once they cried out to the Lord, they forgot Him, His power, the ten plagues, their exit from Egypt and how God preserved their own firstborn sons when the Death Angel made his rounds. They were newly freed but still living as slaves to sight, sound and circumstances.
Read David's lament below and see how differently the Shepherd King expressed his dismay and fear at being surrounded by the enemy. He left anger to his enemies and plans to his God. He poured out one-third concern mixed with two-thirds faith. He declared Truth, not lies. He pled for Justice and mercy from the Eternal Judge who delights in showing mercy to those to trust Him.
"Though I am surrounded by troubles,
You will preserve me against the anger of my enemies.
You will clench Your fist against my angry enemies!
Your power will save me.
The LORD will work out His plans for my life--
for Your faithful love, O LORD, endures forever.
Don't abandon me, for You made me."
Psalm 138:7-8 (NLT)
A Psalm of David
Complaining leaves God out; lamenting places God front and center where He belongs regardless of our circumstances.
Lord, God, we're a complaining people, filled with fear, unrest and whining, spewing blame and divisiveness. Forgive us for leaving You out of the picture. We act as though we're newly freed instead of old friends You've carried up and down many paths. God, help us be people after Your own heart - ready to turn to You, call to You and stick around to listen to Your answers. Open our minds to trust You completely. Close our mouths to complaining to others. Teach us to lament in faith.