Monday, December 31, 2007
But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness. – 2 Peter 3:13
I woke up this morning, walked outside and I could smell the fog. It was amazing. The air hung heavy with a dampness that settled gently on my skin, making me chill slightly. There was a fine mist of water held in the cloud that surrounded me, waiting like a flood of held-back tears, to fall.
I took in a breath and there it was, a soft fragrance, clean, simple –unique . Surely what I was smelling wasn’t the fog but the freshness of the morning that lay beneath the blanket. I took in a second breath and there it was again. My jaws tingled, and my mouth watered as I tasted the scent. The fragrance was real. Lifting my nose into the air like a dog sifting the odors on the wind, I filled my lungs with the fog that encompassed the world. Closing my eyes I held my breath, refusing to exhale so my senses could grasp hold of the moment.
I was reminded o f the smell of the salty air just before you arrive at the beach, or the flavor of the air just before a spring rain or a winter snow. I wondered what God had in store for me as He lifted the haze onto a world that tends to shove Him to the side. I am forever amazed at the newness of each day provided by our loving Father. Even when He knows people shun Him, He still finds the mercy to tend to the details of loving us – loving this world.
Every morning He tints the air with something new. Perhaps an inspiring sunrise or colorful streaks across the horizon. Maybe it’s a new scent to the cleanness of the air we breath. One way or the other, He is a God of many chances, many do-overs, many “start-agains.”
As we prepare to enter into another “new” year, we can rest assured that God is tending over His world. There are times He probably shakes His head in frustration. Still that doesn’t stop Him from placing the refining details to the morning. Each day is new, each moment is different and I have to ask myself, how often do we take this newness for granted?
Today I walked up a knoll as the fog lifted and before my eyes was the bluest sky. The sun kissed the earth and all that remained of the fog were a few wispy clouds that had retreated into the heavens. This morning, I climbed the hill toward heaven and I could have sworn that I could touch the edge of eternity. One more deep breath and my lungs shouted with the pleasure of clean, crisp winter air. All of this, anew – renewed, for an ungrateful world.
At the stroke of midnight we will extend a hand to an aging year and allow the youth of a new year to rise to the surface. The mercy of the Lord has begun to rain upon us again. Blessed and offered forgiveness, we’re afforded a new opportunity to abide in Him and He in us. Once again, He keeps his promise of a new heaven and earth. Once again He is faithful.
Friday, December 28, 2007
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior is born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and laying in a manager.” – Luke 2:10-12
Christmas came and went when I was a child. Each year, the parts for the Christmas program were cast and I always ended up an angel. Not such a bad part, a heavenly being, but not the part I wanted. I wanted to be a shepherd. They were the coolest. Giant hooked staffs and sheep. Since I had a great love for animals, shepherding seemed to be my forte’, though the program directors always thought my long blonde locks were better suited for the angel positions.
I love the story of the shepherds. Just imagine, sitting in the fields. Darkness broken with the flicker of the stars – uncountable stars. The silence was interrupted by the sound of chirping crickets and the flitting of night creatures. Life was peaceful and serene. When out of the blue an angel would appear (that would be me in the Christmas play). How awesome to have an angel of God light up the field where you set tending your sheep. Now that would be an eye opener. More so, being chosen to be privy to such wonderful news. How neat is that?
Jesus spent a great amount of time teaching all sorts of people about His Father. From the Jews to the Gentiles, the wealthy to the poor, and everyone in between. He only saw the need to teach, never the need to teach one more than another. So it doesn’t surprise me that God would send down an angel to the poorest of the poor – the shepherds. They, in the eyes of God, were equally as important as the Magi. Imagine that. Even at the announcement of the Christ child, God included the shepherds. These humble, meek and kind souls would serve as the example of the heart of Jesus. He was referred to as the Good Shepherd, the watcher of the flocks and ultimately, the sacrificial lamb. What a more logical choice of people with whom to share this great news. Jesus the Christ child – the Lamb of God.
I can remember grumbling over my silver tinsel halo one year, when my mother pulled out a picture from our family album. “Let me show you something.” She handed me a picture of a woman dressed as Mary, and a baby (cutest little rascal) grinning from ear to ear.
“That’s us.” She said.
“Us? As in me and you?”
“Yep. You were five months old. Probably very close to the age of Jesus when everyone finally arrived to see him. They had to walk you know. Didn’t have cars back then. It took a long time to get from one place to the next.”
“That’s me as baby Jesus?”
“Well, now that’s a set of shoes to fill, isn’t it? And I’m sure I liked being Jesus. But I really wanted to be a shepherd.” Mom shook her head and filed the picture away as a fruitless attempt to show me there were bigger parts to be had.
I definitely had been given an honor to play the part of Jesus, but what an equal honor to be chosen as the example Christ would follow in life. The gentle shepherd. The leader. The caretaker. The giver. The protector. Who better to view this child than the shepherds? The very symbol of the availability of Christ to all people.
“Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people.” The shepherds wasted no time getting to the city and in humility they set the example by faithfully bowing and worshiping Him.
Years later, I still love the shepherds. I still long to one, but then God nudges me and reminds me that we are all shepherds – all responsible for tending those who do not know Him. Shepherding is hard work, and it bears little rest but great responsibility. The day Christ was born, an angel shared the news with them. How nifty is that? I think I’m happy these days. Once I figured out I finally got to be a shepherd.
Thursday, December 27, 2007
There are times when words just don't come easy. Regardless of how we fumble and search the right way to say something just doesn't come. Funerals are a prime example. Well meaning individuals remark that "things will be better," or "they look so much better," when the best said words would be the ones which were unspoken. As a writer, sometimes we lose our muse - no matter how we struggle to find the right words nothing sounds right. Most men would joke that few women have difficulty with losing sight of having anything to say. Women respond by saying, "where there's a will there's a way."
Monday, December 24, 2007
I sat down in the grass one night, the air crisp and cold. Nothing moved, nothing rustled - there was only the sound of the wind. The sheep all lay sleeping, huddled in their groups, and I knew, with a moon like this, danger would be on the prowl.
Friday, December 21, 2007
As much as we’d like to think we are a faithful people, we have great difficulty holding on to the belief that God will provide. Sometimes life is frightening and when we’re left to truly believe, the ballgame changes. It’s not an intentional thing, we’re just sometimes overcome by the incidents of life that overwhelm us. There are times even small things look like monsters and we wonder if there’s anyway we can possibly rid ourselves of the anxiety that accompanies them.
Perhaps God has blessed us with abundance. Everything has a price including abundance. However, it’s what we do with what we’re given that strengthens our faith. The Father promises us He’ll never allow us to be tempted more that we can withstand without offering us a way clear of the issue and He is faithful in His promise. When He blesses us with abundance, He doesn’t turn around and heap trouble on top of the mix, but there are times the joys we’re given, as wonderful as they are, bring along baggage. Our children are prime examples. What a joy, a blessing and an abundance to be blessed with a child. To hold those little babies in our arms, gaze into their eyes and know that this is what real love consists of, doesn’t mean things will always sail smoothly.
Our babies grow into teens, with hormones and deep running emotion. Suddenly the abundance we felt while holding them as infants turns into a source of animosity, hurt and frustration. In those moments of frustration we look to the heavens and wonder “What happened to that gift that was so precious?” That’s when Christ reminds us, “Where is our faith?” Life is not smooth sailing but our faith in the Father must remain strong, even when life looks bleak.
This morning I leaned back in my computer chair and flipped on the little heater next to my feet. I looked at the ceiling and suddenly, I saw the Father gazing down on me.
“Where’s your faith?” He asked me.
“Huh, am I not being faithful?”
“You question the path you follow? Where’s your faith?”
“Wait, I’m not questioning the path, just the obstacles along the way? I thought it would be easier but this way, as good as it is, gets harder.”
“Yep, everything is tied to a consequence somewhere along the road.” He gently blew in my face and moved the hair that dangled over my brow. “You can thank sin for that – the consequence that is. I wish I could tell you that abundance is free and clear, but it isn’t. When I bless you, there is always decisions to be made, things to be handled, people who are jealous and want what you have. So, it’s what you do with the things I give you. It’s the decisions you make that drive the joy of the gift.”
“So what do I do when the road gets hard?”
“Hold tight to the gift and the excitement of what lies within it, then use your faith. Set the gift before you in plain view, enjoy it, revile in it – but remain faithful in the tasks that brought the gift so freely to you. Others will prosper through your faithfulness. Never forget the prayers of hope you prayed, never forget where you were before you received your gift. Then make the efforts to grasp hold of Me and believe that I will get you through whatever obstacles crop up. Cling to me. I will always provide.”
“Oh, I understand. Take the gift, enjoy it but continue to work, don’t lean back on my duff and expect a free ride.”
“Well….” The father laughed, “That’s one way of putting it. “Sometimes the gift looks to big to absorb, but its not. I always provide a way. Don’t just sit there --persevere. Knuckle down and forge ahead. The gift is the gravy, your faith is the key.”
I’ve learned a lot recently from thses morning chats with the Father. He’s a pretty wise soul – has method to the madness. So I take my gifts of abundance and cherish them, but I dig in and forge ahead in faith. He, who even the storm obeys, has the answer. I just need the faith.
Thursday, December 20, 2007
(Part of the He Said - She Said Series)
Visit www.christiandevotions.us to view the He Said version
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. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her first born, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in the manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. – Luke 2:4-7
“That’s the fifth inn we’ve stopped at.” Mary rubbed her back and tried to reposition herself on the donkey. Joseph took the reins and tugged.
“I know. There’s another around the corner.”
“Did you not call ahead?”
“It’s not like I had a cell phone handy.”
“A cell phone. You know a mobile phone?” She shrugged somewhat puzzled.
“I thought you’d send ahead for a room, especially with me pregnant. That was poor planning, Joseph.”
“You wanna talk poor planning? A child before marriage isn’t exactly in the top ten for Martha Stewart’s New Planning Guide.”
“What? Who’s Martha Stewart?” She furrowed her brow, confused.
“Skip it. We’ll try the next inn.”
“All I’m saying is, you knew I was pregnant and I would have thought you’d sent someone ahead. Not that I don’t appreciate Willard the donkey, but a cart would have been nice – easier on the back.” Joseph glanced over his shoulder then rolled his eyes.
“Anything else wrong?”
“Nothing’s wrong, I just thought you’d call ahead.”
“Like I said, Mary…it’s not like I had a cell phone.”
“What’s a cell phone?” She nodded, curious to understand.
“Just wait here until I check with the innkeeper.” Mary waited patiently then climbing down from the beast she stretched. A pain shot through her like a bolt of lightening.
“Joe!” He motioned to her to wait. “Joseph! Now! It’s now! Showtime.”
“What? Showtime for what?”
“The baby. It’s time. Did you get a room?” She doubled in agony.
“They’re out but they have a garage in the back.”
“Garage? What’s a garage?”
“Nothing. It’s a stable. It’s gonna have to do.”
“I didn’t bring the diaper bag. I wish you’d have called ahead.”
“Now who’s planning poorly?” He helped her into the stable and soon the child was born. Joseph took the baby in his arms and snuggled him close. He cleaned his face gently with a damp cloth then kissed his tiny fingers. “Well, son, it’s good to finally meet you. You’re mother is a wonderful woman – a little persnickety at times, but a good woman. That’s why God chose her.” He stared into the baby’s face understanding fully he was looking into the face of God. “Thing is, she knew in advance. She knew long before me. You did call ahead. Years ahead and You knew then, there’d be no rooms available.”
The truth of the matter is the birth of Christ was prepared well in advance. But from the very beginning there has never been room. It seems where ever He travelled there was a crowd. He had a following. People crowded around Him through His entire ministry. There were times He had to climb into a boat and row out into the water just to have elbow room, so the issue of no room in the inn was only the beginning.
The Father had prepared for this moment from the second He decided to create the world. He made His plans, prepared for the fact that Christ would never have space. He knew that while Jesus walked the earth it would be a tight squeeze, but the hardest place to make a spot for Him would be man’s heart.
We celebrate the birth of Christ every year with great celebration, gifts, and food but the real question remains, “Is there any room?” Do you have space for Him in your heart? My conversation between Mary and Joseph was meant to make you smile just a bit but the thought behind it goes deeper. When you sit down at night to ponder the day, have you made room for Christ? Whether it’s in prayer, devotion, acts of kindness, or actions – have you made room or is He still in the stall out back? Christmas is all about making room for the Savior – His coming. Is there space in your heart?
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled. - 1 Thessalonians 5:6
There's not a person alive who hasn't felt anger and frustration. It comes in many forms, and when it hits us the ultimate result is cranky. The edges of our mouth turn down, we scowl, furrow our brow, snort, sigh and of course, there's the old, slam things around thing. One way or the other we manage to let others know we're in a less than pleasant mood.
I've been sick recently, and though I've tried my best to maintain a decent attitude, the fact is, I've felt horrible. Illness makes even the strongest soul a bit sour. So when my disabled son came bounding in the house from work, slamming the door behind him and knocking over things without a second thought, my first inclination was to snap at him. "Hey - slow down. Take it easy. You act like you have something to hide." Though I said it in a joking manner, deep down inside, I was a bit frustrated.
Up the steps he went saying, "Sorrrrryyyy!" I gave a snort and shook my head as a smile broke through the agitation. He wasn't the least bit sorry, but he made the effort to apologize for rushing through the house like a bull in a China shop. Within minutes he's standing next to me, goofy grin (you know, the one that proves you're the cat that ate the bird), and this is what he says. "Mom, I got something for you."
I was a bit stunned. "I got this for you at work, just because I'm proud of you."
Okay, so now I'm feeling really cruddy for being cranky with him. From behind his back, he brings this beautiful basket full of bath products. Tears filled my eyes as I sat staring at this wonderful act of kindness. From the depths of his heart came this tender, sweet, and thoughtful gift. Outside of the obvious guilt, my heart melted and I was shamed. He sat the gift in my lap, kissed me on the cheek, and trailed off into another room. I had to call him back to thank him. I wrapped my arms around him and squeezed. How fortunate am I? Within minutes, I found myself alone and holding this beautiful gift and feeling oh, so blessed. Suddenly I understood what finding favor with God meant.
So, I leaned back in the recliner and looked toward the couch. "You there, Father?"
"Oh yeah, I'm here. Wouldn't have missed this one for the world."
"That was the sweetest thing."
"Indeed. Acts of kindness are always sweet. They're from the spirit. Inspired on a whim for those who need a boost."
"You're saying this is a bandaid?"
"Kinda. Sometimes we lose control of our perspective and we need to be jolted back on track. Sometimes we draw within ourselves and forget the attitude others see. We become self-absorbed."
"Great! Now you're telling me I'm selfish."
"No. Don't put words in my mouth. I'm telling you, we all get a bit testy at times, but it's our job to be aware - to pay attention. Be alert and self-controlled so that others do not pay the price for our misdirection."
"How lucky am I?" I asked.
The Father pulled the curtain back from the window and replied. "So fortunate. Now what will you do with the fortune you've been given?"
"That's a start. Others need to be loved as well."
"You're telling me to love the cranky?"
"The Father laughed. "I'm telling you, love the cranky and everyone in between because you are fortunate to have been loved."
Okay, so I look at feeling bad in a whole new light. I am responsible, even when I feel bad, for maintaining the face of Christ. My attitude sets the pace for the family's attitude. The next time I feel cranky, I'll remember this gentle reminder - this gift of kindness, one given for no other reason, than to make me smile.
Monday, December 17, 2007
I will bless them and the places surrounding my hill. I will send down showers in season; there will be showers of blessing. – Ezekiel 34:26
Everybody has something they hate to turn loose of – just got to hold on tight. For some it may be an old car or an old chair. Many of our children are attached to a blanket, a pacifier, or a special toy. The fact is, all of us have white knuckles over something.
Me. Well…..it’s this completely worn out pair of lounging pants. First of all, I love the color – they’re purple plaid, and though plaid is not my favorite, I can live with it because they’re shades of purple. Secondly, they’re way too big. Slouchy is probably the best word for them. Ooh, they are so soft and comfy that it doesn’t matter if I spend my time hiking them up around my waist. I love them.
I pulled them out of the laundry and as I folded them, I noticed a tear – a big three-inch long tear at the knee. Needless to say I was mortified. However, being a “clinger,” I folded them neatly and put them away, pulling them out regularly to wear. Each day I wore them, I noticed the hole becoming a long tear. Recently, I slipped them on and the leg became two separate pieces. I know -- it’s sad. But I love my lounge pants. They fit with that special sort of comfort.
I plopped down in the recliner, kicked up my feet and heard this distinct riipppp. “Ah man. No way.” I whined. My husband laughed then rolled his eyes. He’s been waiting for me to throw them away for sometime. I found myself pulling the edges of the tear together in an attempt to pretend they would magically meld together. To my dismay, that didn’t happen.
Grabbing my floppers, I slipped my feet in and headed out the door to get the newspaper. The wind was howling outside and the one leg of my lounge pants flapped freely like a flag on the mast of a pirate ship. My leg quickly turned cold and I tried frantically to grab the flapping material. That’s when it occurred to me. Why in heavens name do I insist on hanging on to old things that are non-repairable?
How often do we grasp hold of things from our past and cling to it as though there is no tomorrow? There are new things to sink our teeth into.
I asked the Father, as I struggled to hold my lounge pants together, “Why do we do this God?”
He laughed out loud then shook His head. “You tell me. I offer you so much more. Hope, love, peace, forgiveness, yet you insist on hanging on the one thing that causes you the most pain.”
“The pants are comfortable.”
“Yeah, right! I can tell.” He motioned the wind to blow and yank the material from my fingers. “That’s comfortable, heh?”
“Oh, now You’re just showing off.”
“No, I’m making a point. Throw away the old things that are torn and tattered and let me fill you with new things. All that ‘junk’ that hides deep in your soul – trash it.”
I suddenly felt very uncomfortable. I wasn’t sure if I could give up my purple lounge pants. But the Father was right. How comfortable are you when you’re chasing wild material?
“Okay, so I give up the lounge pants. What then?”
God stopped the wind and my leg grew warmer. “Oh. I see.” I said.
He smiled and then did the most amazing thing. He filled me with blessings. My heart danced with excitement as I felt the multitude of abundance He heaped upon me. My friends, my family, good fortune, dreams come true and all for the price of a pair of torn lounge pants. (You realize it’s really NOT about the pants!)
The Father brushed past me as I stepped onto the porch. “I want you joyous and happy. I want to bless you from the inside out. But when you are filled with old and torn items, there’s no room. You have to throw the junk away – finish the tasks you’ve begun so I can bless them.”
I took off my lounge pants when I got in the house. Wadded them into a ball and tossed them in the trash. Sure, they were comfortable, soft – what I knew best. But I liked this feeling of blessing and abundance. It was time to throw out the old. Resolve, so to speak. The new lounge pants are a little stiff, but they’ll soften with time. And they do fit much better. No more hiking them at the waist. My legs are warm. There’s real benefits to having new ones.
The Father joined me in the living room this morning. He kicked His feet up on the recliner, leaned back. “Feels good to have new hope, doesn’t it?”
“Indeed it does.”
The Father smiled. “Imagine that. And it only cost you the old. Not a bad trade, I’d think.”
“No Sir. It wasn’t. Wish I’d have thrown them away years ago.”
The moral of this story is simple. God waits for us to give our troubles and woes to Him. He wants to replace the old with the new. And when He does, He rains blessings from heaven.
Friday, December 14, 2007
The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord – Romans 5:20
My son and I were driving to the store one afternoon, when he asked, “Mom, tell me what grace means.” That would be easy or so I thought and I began listing all those words Webster offers. That’s when the realization of grace came to me. It’s more than single words. Grace is a concept – a big concept. In order to get our mind around it, we have to understand the concept.
Look at grace like this: you take a thimble, a tiny little sewing thimble. Pretend you’re standing on the beach gazing at the ocean. Now, jump in the water, swim out just a bit, dip your thimble in the water, and swim back. Once back on shore, look at the water in your thimble. It’s such a tiny amount of water. Imagine this. That small amount of water, when poured on your head, will cover you completely, soaking you to the bone. One more thing, look at that ocean. It’s huge. You could stand at the beach and dip your thimble into the ocean bazillions of times through your lifetime and never come close to using up the grace that God offers.
One might ask why do you have to swim into the ocean to fill your thimble? Can’t a person do that from the beach? Certainly, but the point of grace is diving into it. The full effects are felt when we immerse ourselves fully into the process. Isn’t that amazing? God’s marvelous grace is so abundant we can’t begin to make a dent in His ocean. Better yet, one thimbleful is concentrated – you know, a “little bit goes a long way” cliché.
There are many Christian concepts that sometimes throw us for a loop when we’re trying to grasp hold. We can be a great theologian and still not really “get” a concept – that’s why it’s important to ponder them. Study. When you least expect it. God will explain it.
So, today when I sat at my desk, I asked the Father, “What’s your definition of grace?”
He pulled his chair close to me and laid His hand on the desk, tapping His fingers in thought. “Grace is my way of canceling out the bad. A freedom of sorts, but one you must make the effort to receive.”
“Did you like my explanation of grace? You know, the thimble story.”
“I did. And now, here’s the question I pose to you. I freely give grace. What about you? It’s easy to receive grace, but it’s hard to give it. Who do you need to offer up a thimble of grace?”
I was stunned. “I thought grace was a God thing.”
“It is. But the idea is the same. If you can receive grace, you must also learn to offer it. It’s not my grace, because only I can give my grace, but you can offer your version of the idea and find a great peace in the forgiveness that lies beneath a simple word like grace.” He makes so much sense when we listen. Who do you need to offer grace?
Thursday, December 13, 2007
The angel went to her and said, "Greetings, you are highly favored! The Lord is with you." Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid. Mary, you have found favor with God. "You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.....But why am I so favored that the mother of my Lord should come to me? - Luke 1:28-33, 43
There are times when we are dealt a task that can only be performed by us. Regardless of what we do, who we talk to, the ultimate completion of the assignment falls solely in our hands. The burden is great - sometimes heavier than anyone can imagine. Sometimes so heavy that we fall to our knees and crawl until we find something we can grasp hold of and pull ourselves upright once again.
Can you imagine what it must have been like to be Mary, the mother of Jesus? Can you imagine the burden - the weight that was tied to her heart, pulling her to her knees? Simply as a mother, knowing the facts of His life before He was born and being aware everyday she rocked Him what His ultimate demise would be - was enough to bring a life of suffering for her. Still she faithfully stood by His side. All through the ministry of Jesus, we see one-liners of scripture that tell us Mary was there. She was not only His mother she was a follower and a believer. She followed him to different cities from time to time. She walked along the crowd, mourning as He lugged the cross to Calvary, and she sat at His feet as His life's blood trickled down the cross and puddled at her knees. She had to ask the question, "And God calls this favor?"
Though the honor of being chosen as the mother of Jesus was amazing, one given on the merits of her heart, Mary only asked one question of the angel who brought her the news. "How can this be?" She never once questioned the task she was given. As women, it's our nature to question. We like to know the details of things. Men are happy with a brief outline but women - women take the details of an issue and wrap around it, making sure that every aspect of it is covered. It's just how God made us. Mary fought that urge to question. She took the overwhelming news into her heart and pondered it. Later her own humility before the Father led her ask, "But why am I so favored that the mother of my Lord should come to me?" Humble, obedient, determined, and faithful - favored by God.
Mary had to wonder why she couldn't enjoy the life of Jesus, as she would enjoy the lives of her other children, but she realized each memory of Him would be her only tie to Him once His task on earth was complete. So, she was there. She was there being the faithful and loving mother - there being the faithful and loving servant. Even as He died on the cross while part of her died as well.
The true qualities of such a woman will only be known to our Father in heaven who knew her heart and found favor with her. Hers was a task only she could fulfill and hers was the burden she carried without hesitation. Some say a gift, while others say a curse, a life of suffering and torment as she watched her child grow into His ministry. She'd found favor with God and as undeserving as she felt, she stepped forward and performed the job with grace and determination.
I asked the Father, "What is favor?"
He knelt down and tinkered with a blade of grass. "Favor is my choice. Knowing the strength of the heart, the broadness of the shoulders, the willingness to continue on when things get hard."
"It doesn't mean you like one more than another?"
"No, not necessarily. It means I know them better than any other. And I know whether they will press forward or slow to stop beneath the details of the plan."
"So Mary was favored?"
"Indeed. A woman of great favor for reasons man will never grasp. Unique and obedient, faithful and humble."
"Oh." I said kneeling next to Him. "So do You love me like You loved Mary?"
"Without a doubt. I find favor in all My children. They are each different." That warmed my heart. God loves us all, finds favor in us all - each one unique in His eyes.
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
You see, there was a lot more to that fall than most would recognize and now that I step back and accept the challenge to examine the incident, I see just where the Father was taking me.
I stood at the top of a slick hillside and without a second thought, took a step. Did I make an effort to grasp hold of my husband's extended hand? No! Did I grab hold of a tree for balance? No! I did what most of us do in any given situation. I stepped out on my own - no preparation, no thought or guidance, and wham. My feet became airborne and I landed flat on my backside, taking the ride of my life and going downhill fast.
Isn't that just like us - walking head first into a situation without looking? Worse yet, once we're at the bottom of the hill looking up, we have to begin the climb back. Step after step, we make the effort to move tediously over rocks and wet leaves. As long as our eyes are fixed on the short-term climb, we manage fine. But when we look to the top, the climb looks too steep and bottom appears better, so we backslide into our old ways. Our feet start to slip, and our arms flap in an attempt to steady us, but the ride to the bottom is much easier.
We find that our sins are much more fun than we care to admit. The ride down the hill was a blast, but it left us with a dirty backside. Now, not only do we have to find our way back, but once we get there, we've got to clean the mud off. Cliché as it is, we've fallen prey to backsliding.
The Father knows the path we travel is filled with obstacles. He knows we'll step out on our own and slide bottom-first down the hill. Still, the wonderful thing is, He's always there to help us. It's that unconditional and hopeful love of the Creator that lifts us, that gets behind us and pushes us forward - all the way to the top. Once we manage to pull ourselves back, then we face the job of cleaning up the mess. That's the hard part. Often times we can't see the dirt on our backside, yet we know it's there. We're filthy and just because we can't see the mud doesn't mean we won't leave a smudge when we sit on the new couch. There's a vicious cycle of climbing, sliding, cleaning, climbing, sliding, and cleaning. Thank goodness when we backslide the Father offers us a forgiveness that is complete and amazing. He knows we are sinful, yet He stands hand extended, to pull us free from the muddy hillside. To top it off - He washes us clean.
I can't say that the Father finds His fun in snapping a picture of my muddy backside, but He certainly can use it to prove that the fast trip to the bottom may have been fun, but it left us pretty nasty. We all trip and fall - backslide from time to time, but when we reach for the hand of God, we will find forgiveness and we'll be cleansed. Brand new, no smudges. Clean.
Sometimes God lets us wallow at the bottom for a time, but when our eyes are finally opened He wraps His arms around us and lifts us effortlessly to the mountain top. And you thought the ride to the bottom was fun. Wait until you ride up!
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
Having worked for a veterinarian for 15 years, I have not only experienced the joys of individuals with new pets, but I have suffered their loss as well. I have sat in the floor of vet's office, while she put to rest the pain and suffering of my own animal - one that meant the world to me. I snuggled the sweet head of my Dalmatian and watched as his eyes pleaded for relief, yet at the same time they poured masses of forgiveness - something he sensed I would need. I suffered loss - painful, distressing loss, the kind that felt as though my heart would shred. All I could do was caress him, grasping to hold on to the unconditional love he'd faithfully given me for 13 years. Sobs -heart wrenching sobs, was all that offered me any relief.
There are times when we become so engrossed in our own loss, whether it's the loss of a friend, family member, a pet, or even a job that we cannot imagine that our Father in heaven suffered loss as well. More so, the loss He felt was an intentional loss - a sacrifice made purely for our benefit. He stood from the heavens and watched as His one and only Son was beaten and battered, broken and torn. Our natural instinct is to reach to provide protection for our children when they are hurting, and so it was for God. Still He had to step back and endure the agony of watching His Son die, and not being able to help. Imagine having the power of creation in one fingertip and resisting the insurmountable desire to save His child the pain.
The Father knows the experience of loss. His heart felt the effects as His Son bled and died. What an unconditional love. What an amazing sacrifice. The next time that loss hits home, mourn and grieve, but remember that God grieves having made the ultimate sacrifice for us. He is a glorious and almighty Father, isn't He?
When I walked with God this morning I said to Him, "Wow. You love me that much, heh?"
"More that you can imagine. More than you can conceive. More, more, more."
"That's a lot, Father."
"Thank you for noticing. It's because you are everything to me." He bumped my shoulder with His and I stumbled slightly. Amazingly enough, being who God is, His hand steadied me -- never letting me fall.
Monday, December 10, 2007
Isaiah 42:5 & 8
So many friends have told me, "There's life outside those hills you live in," and I know that to be very true. I simply find such peace in these mountains. I find myself gushing over every tree and rock, rubbing my hands on the leaves, lifting my head and sucking in the scents of a damp forest. There is absolutely nothing that brings me greater renewal than standing and gazing across this creation and being so engulfed in the Lord that I lose all track of time. For me, the mountains are my opportunity to drink in the loving embodiment of the Father.
I recently stood on The Chimney Top, a beautiful point in the Smokies, and as I stared across the pass, the realization of the Father's handiwork was almost more than I could absorb. I wondered just for a moment, if this was heaven. Looking down from so far above the rest of the world, I asked God, "Is this what it's like to be in heaven?" A breeze brushed past me, wrapping my hair around my face. Looking over my shoulder I could imagine the Father, sitting leaned against a tree, legs crossed and hands clasped together behind His head. He was so serene - so pleased that I had come.
He patted the ground next to Him and motioned for me to sit - and I did. He pulled me close to his chest and kissed my head as only a father can do with his children. Yet He said nothing. Instead, He began to hum and that surprised me. I'd never thought about God humming before. He rocked gently from side to side and softly sang to me. When His voice left His mouth, the wind grasped hold and carried it across the pass. Everything hushed to listen. A deer lifted her head from her grazing, slowly closing her eyes as she raised her nose into the air. Her head gently cocked to one side and her ears flicked. She was touched by the sound. The trees leaned toward the echo and there was no doubt they heard.
We so often think of God's creation in such simple terms, when in fact there is nothing simple about it. Looking at the river bed alone, staring at the boulders and their immense side makes you ask, "Father, how did you do this? The rocks aren't randomly placed rather they are meticulously set in the perfect spot for the water to rush across them in just the right way." He smiles and continues to rock me in His arms.
God could have stopped at the creation of the world. He didn't have to add man. He already knew the outcome when he scooped that hand full of dirt and formed Adam. Still His world was not complete without us. He made us anyway - unworthy and undeserving of any of His glorious works. He wants to share His creation just as He shared His son. He had given us everything. Absolutely everything. Did you realize that? He has given everything without hesitation. What kind of love is that? Certainly one I have difficulty getting my mind around.
So, I scooted in just a bit closer as my Father in heaven filled me with His glory. I felt His peace, enjoyed His comfort, renewed in His presence. In His creation I sought Him and He was there. We talked awhile, but mostly I listened as He filled the mountains with His voice - something I never imagined God doing. He is a God of surprises and just when I think there is nothing unique left, He hums..... and he does it for me.
Friday, December 7, 2007
Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them… As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful." Matthew 13:7 & 22
(The He Said- She Said Series can be found at the Christian Devotions web site)
There are things this world chooses to hoard, thoughts and reasoning that simply cannot be understood. The whys of issues – why does this happen or why does that happen. When I can’t find the understanding for the mishaps of life, I become frustrated and angry. For example, why is it, the harder I try to do what the Father asks, the harder Satan attacks me? Why is that?
I understand that God never promised us an easy path but what about the efforts we make along the way? Doesn’t that count for something? There are times when temptation is almost more than I can bear. The little things gnaw and pick at me and like a mosquito bite constantly itching. The more I scratch the worse it itches. For every good thing I manage it’s like three bad things erupt and sometimes, the work I’ve done gets torn to shreds. Why is that?
It goes back to a parable – the one where the sower is tossing seeds everywhere. Some seeds find good soil, some find rocks, or the pathway, others find good soil but they’re overtaken by thorns that are already planted firmly. For those works that fall into the thicket and grow I find there must be a two-fold reason for their taking roots and sprouting. The first being that glimmer of hope much of the world misses. Even in the pain and frustration of the thorns, the Father springs to life a single flower of hope. It may only last a short time, but it’s there to offer hope. The second being, a short-lived usefulness, one that sprouts in the middle of chaos, rises slightly above the thicket to set an example. It may soon meet its demise, but the fact is God used it temporarily. At least that’s how God tries to explain it to me.
The Father constantly reminds me that the work I do is never fruitless. I may not see the benefits but then, it may not be for me to see. The whys of the world remain the worlds’, and I still never come into the understanding of what happened to the efforts I’d worked toward. Instead, I feel a little hurt – even cheated, that they’ve been choked out. Perhaps a little selfish in thinking that the fruits were mine to begin with – a bit cocky, don’t you think?
Still the whole ordeal is a learning process. The issue is whether I’m willing to learn or if I insist on continually questioning the “how comes.” When I trust, all my efforts are just that --“efforts.” God can use those where ever and however He’s sees fit. Suddenly the why’s of the world don’t matter anymore. It’s that “everything works for the good” part. God takes the efforts, even when they’ve fallen into unsustainable ground, and causes them to flourish for a short time. Are they able to remain strong and fit for duty – probably not, they’re growing among the thorns, but the Father turns them into a good that suits His will.
Ultimately, it’s not for me to question the whys of the world, rather it is my task to plant the seeds, to work and produce what God can cultivate and use to His good. I’d be lying to say that it doesn’t bother me a bit. It does bother me, especially when I see a project take root, flourish, then suddenly wither and die on the vine. However, it’s not about me, now is it? It’s all about the Father and his righteous plan. And the sooner I learn that, the greater my reward. I’m human and I’m tempted and tried daily.
It’s not fair nor is it right - especially when I am able to call myself Christian. The fact remains, what has fallen and taken root can be used to the glory of the Father. So from the madness of the world, comes goodness. From the trials and temptations I face come strength and wisdom. It doesn’t pay for me to try and dig the flowering plants from among the thorns and hope they’ll thrive if transplanted. All I manage to get from the deal is scratched up. They have fallen and taken root in the soreness of life. Now God will use them to His glory and the work was worth the effort.
Thursday, December 6, 2007
Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit – Galatians 5:25
Lisa rested her feet in the starting blocks. She dug her toes deep into the cinders and twisted, getting herself situated for a perfect start. Head down, fingers lightly touching the sharp rocks, she bent her knees and lifted her back. She closed her eyes and tried to block out the cheers of her fellow students. This was the final 100 yard dash – a sprint that would either catapult her into a college scholarship or rate her as just another runner.
The starter lifted his arm and shouted, “Ready!” Lisa snapped into position. “Set!” She sucked in a deep breath. The gun fired and it was as if the scene went into slow motion. Her body slowly extended as the muscles in her legs tightened shoving her off the starting blocks. She used her arms to push and pull, accelerating her forward.
To her left, she could hear the breath of her competitor - short, hard puffs of air escaped her lungs giving Lisa the impression an old steam engine was coming. To her right a clumsy runner, arms flailing and grunting. The three runners hit the halfway mark shoulder to shoulder, the only one leading was the one whose head might jut forward. Lisa tried to keep her eyes fixed on the finish line, looking to the right or left would not only break her concentration but cause her to lose momentum.
An elbow from the flailing runner to her right flew up catching Lisa just below the armpit, sending her careening into the on-coming train in the next lane. Her feet tangled and she went headfirst into the cinder. Her hands had no sooner hit the ground until instinct yanked her back. She dug the toes of her shoes into the ground and shot forward, now eyeing the rear of the pack instead of being in the front. She quickly made headway, fueled by anger and frustration, passing runners hard and fast.
She regained a third-place position, not enough to win, but enough to take a ribbon. Immediately after the race officials escorted her to the third place platform and helped her up. Blood streamed down both her legs, and her palms had embedded pieces of cinder. She was disappointed. When the awards ceremony was over, the winner – the clumsy runner, pulled her ribbon from around her neck and placed it around Lisa’s. “It was an accident. I didn’t mean to elbow you. But never in my life have I seen such spirit. Take this, I don’t deserve it.”
What does it mean to have spirit? It means having the heart of the Holy Spirit – it’s that deep part of us that reaches out as the example to others, the kindness, the hope, the determination to be what is good and right. Having spirit is a genuine quality, an honesty, a willingness to do for others without expectation or reward. Spirit is the heart of Christ. When we push forward with the intention of finishing the plan, move ahead with forgiveness and kindness, even when we’ve been wronged, then finish the task – we have spirit. Think of spirit in these terms. Christ was bound, beaten, and murdered on a cross for us without uttering a single harsh word. He took to paradise a thief who hung by His side, and then three days later, He returned in glory to finish the task. No personal gain, no rewards, only the spirit to save.
Prayer: Lord, may our hearts be filled with Your spirit.
Wednesday, December 5, 2007
The Lord is wonderfully good to those who wait for Him and seek Him. So it is good to wait quietly for salvation from the Lord. – Lamentations 3:25-26
This morning I walked into the sunrise. The air was so cold it froze my breath into a fog that shattered, falling to the ground like a broken bottle. I grasped hold of my turtleneck with my fingers and heaved it securely over my mouth and nose, shrugging my shoulders and pulling my arms tight against my chest, I peered over my knuckles. I held the collar tight with my hands and breathed a long, deep puff of air into my shirt. There was that fog again.
The sky lay streaked with lines of angry clouds, dark and dingy –like the tinge of gray that happens when the whites are washed with the jeans. A purple glow fell just beyond the angry sky. The mountain stretched past that, reaching majestically toward the heavens and just to the right, was the edge of sunrise.
I’d never considered the edge of sunrise before – never questioned what it held or why it was. I’d only enjoyed its beauty, only taken in what peace I could gather from its existence.
How often have I stood and took in the sun and all its aspects? Hundreds of times. Sunrise, sunset, mid-day sun, afternoon sun – yet I’d never considered the possibility of waiting quietly for its message. So often we view the beauty the Father has placed before us but we never
wait to see what message it holds. God speaks to us in many ways yet we rarely have our eyes or ears tuned into what may be blatantly strewn before us.
Learning to wait on God is hard. I find myself giggling my foot or tapping my toes impatiently against the hardwood floor, encouraging the passing of time. When I really want to seek after Him, and find Him I need to look into the quiet and stillness. That’s where God is. That’s where He waits to share encouragement, hope, and love for me. The quiet is where He speaks in that still soft voice and where I can hear it echo clearly through my heart. The key is cocking my head ever so slightly to the side, squinting my eyes, then holding my breath. All I hear is the pulsing of my heart. Then suddenly as clear as a bell, His voice comes through.
“I wondered when you’d come. Enjoy the sunrise?”
“Yes, it’s amazing how the purple tint pushes away the anger of the darkness.”
“Nice, you caught that. I’m pleased.” The Father said as He rubbed his fingers across His chin.
“Oh, and I saw this side of the sunrise and I wondered who stood on the other side. And if they could see what I saw?”
“Interesting concept. Anything else notable that you saw?”
“I noticed my skin carried the reflection of the purple sky – that same glow.”
“Nice. That was me warming you from within.”
“More so, I felt what it was like to wait for You, Father. To anticipate Your presence. And the wait was the most fulfilling wait I’ve ever had.”
“Then you found me in the stillness of the sunrise. Good job. I am always in the stillness. Just learn to wait and listen. You will hear me.”
What a wonderful promise to know that in stillness of the sunrise, the Father waits to wrap us tight in His presence. He loves to spend time with His children. This is where He teaches us, disciplines us, rebukes us, and loves us. Seek him in the stillness and find that He is wonderfully good.
Tuesday, December 4, 2007
The Lord has heard my cry for mercy; the Lord accepts my prayer. – Psalms 6:9
God must have a sense of humor. I can’t imagine His not having a hardy one when He relaxes in our home. He pushes the recliner back and kicks open the foot rest, then wiggles into a comfortable position just to watch the entertainment our family provides. Better yet – He continually teaches me through it.
I recently popped a bowl filled of water in the microwave. Punching the timer to 1.25 minutes, I hit the on button then headed to the drawer to grab an oven mitt. I slipped the mitt over my right hand just in time to open the microwave and retrieve the boiling water. Between the thickness of the mitt and the steam in the microwave, I lost my grip on the bowl and scalding water careened down my hand and arm. Shouting was an understatement. Hopping around the kitchen in agony, trying to blink away the tears only led from one disaster to the next. My older son grabbed the mitt and yanked, taking with it, hide and all, while my younger son, grabbed my arm and buried it in the ice bucket from the freezer. Though the three of us orchestrated a perfectly in-sync dance of idiots through the kitchen the fact remained, I had scalded my hand and arm seriously.
After several hours of ice, and the pain that accompanies a nasty burn, the redness had centered itself around my wrist and was joined by a bit of swelling. In the living room I could hear my adult children roaring with laughter as they shared the story with my husband. I furrowed my brow and starred at the burn. This really wasn’t funny. It hurt. Still my family found great humor in the fact that as I hopped through the kitchen I found myself stepping in the scalding water as well.
Feeling a bit sorry for myself, I emailed my friend Mark and relayed the story to him. He immediately returned a concerned note and suggested I put myself on the prayer list. I couldn’t put such a gooberhead thing on the prayer list. Still, Mark reminded me I wouldn’t hesitate to put his gooberhead antics on the list – I snickered because he was right.
I spun my chair around and gazed out the window at the rain. “God, it was a stupid accident. Really embarrassing.”
“Entertaining, at least,” the Father remarked, “still an accident.”
“I’m embarrassed. Wounded.” That’s when the Father chuckled out loud.
“Wounded. Shesh, your gift in writing is coming out. Interesting choice of words – wounded. However you word the phrase, it was still an accident and you were…okay, wounded.”
I could feel His sarcastic tone. “You want to know about the gooberhead things?”
“First of all, I already know about the gooberhead things. And secondly, why it is so hard to ask? We’ve been through this time and again.”
I hung my head. “I don’t know why.”
“I do.” The Father leaned close and whispered. “Pride.”
The words shot through me like a bolt of lightening. “Pride?”
“Yes, pride. Get the hint? Put the dance of the gooberheads on the list. I care about those things as well. I hear even the gooberhead prayers and for the record, they aren’t gooberheads to me. That’s strictly your term. Humorous as it is, that one is uniquely yours.”
Isn’t that amazing? The Father wants to hear every detail, good, bad or indifferent. He hears our cries for mercy and accepts our prayers. Lesson learned – again, the hard way.
Prayer: Lord, when I am stubborn, forgive me. When I am foolish, love me anyway. When I’m a gooberhead – keep me safe.
Monday, December 3, 2007
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. – 1 Corinthians 1:3-4
There is not one of us who has not experienced uncertainty, hurt, or pain. It seems the way of the world to jerk us around, reeking havoc in our somewhat peaceful lives. Our problem may be illness, trouble with a child, or a tough decision. Still it doesn’t matter what the issue is – what matters, is finding the peace to live with the outcome.
When I took my walk with the Father, I asked Him, “How do I find comfort when my heart is heavy, when life is shoving me in every direction?” I felt Him snug me tight under His armpit and that was what comfort “felt” like.
“You trust that I will provide. I will use the situation to show you good when your eyes are ready to see.”
“Meanwhile, I’m miserable?”
“Maybe, if you choose to dwell in unhappiness. But if you step forward in faith, you’ll find rest. It may not be complete resolve, but you’ll find comfort and acceptance. I’ll provide that for you – even if the situation doesn’t turn out to suit you. Better yet, when you least expect it, you’ll be able to relate that peace to someone else. They can, in turn, share with someone else – so the hand of peace continues to extend.”
“So comfort is not resolve?”
“Nope. Not always. But it is acceptance and peace. So trust me.”
God has never once promised us life would be easy. Even His son had a difficult life on earth. He does, however, promise us an abiding comfort when we ask. We must be willing to ask, to seek, and to wait for the peace He will provide. His grace is sufficient for us.
I felt the Father gently kiss my forehead. “Do you remember who’s tender kisses brought you comfort?” He asked me. A flood of memories dumped into my head –good memories.
“I do. Daddy used to kiss me on the forehead.”
“And what did you find in that kiss?”
“There you have it. Things are not better, but you’re okay. Comfort.”
God makes such good sense when we listen for His voice – when we give Him the opportunity to work in our lives. It’s not always easy, but there is comfort to be found and we are able to share that with others when they are in need. It’s like He says, “His grace is sufficient for us.” What comfort!
Prayer: Precious Father, when my life seems out of sorts, offer me comfort and give me good eyes to see it.