16 December, 2017

Shepherds Go

Cross-post from Adventagain.blogspot.com
First Responders are an amazing group of people. They are those who run toward the danger instead of away from the danger.  They are the ones risking their lives to save or help total strangers.  They are the ones problem-solving as they run into unknown situations.  They are the ones willing to go in and survey the situation, to help start the rescue.  This group is highly trained certainly but most of all, they are first, willing.

And so were the shepherds.  Think about this group of individuals, this occupation.  Luke 2 states that they were, "living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night".  This had to be a most difficult existence as they were away from family, uncomfortable, lonely and each night was oh, so dark.  We all know danger comes at night as does fear.

Then, one night after years and years of predictable darkness, there came a bright light in the sky like never before seen.  They must have been absolutely terrified.  One angel shining in God's glory who also spoke words that they understood.  Then many, many angels with many voices also praising God.  And then...darkness.  Silence.

These men had to be in shock, stunned, amazed, and scared to death.  They were just humans like you and me, going to work and certainly not anticipating this type of night after so many others of darkness and void.
And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people.  For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.  And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.”
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:
“Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”
So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they came with haste...Luke 2:9-16a

Think of how dark it must have become after the light from the angels dissipated.  The darkness had to feel ten-times darker after experiencing such a light.  But unlike me, who would have run to the nearest house and hidden or run to my family where I knew I would be safe, these men ran (with haste) to Bethlehem.  What drove them to go?  They literally walked-off their jobs.  Were they too astounded NOT to go?  It takes willingness and courage to go into a situation where you don't know the outcome.  It takes an ability to recognize our lack of knowledge and our need to know.  It's a 'first responder' type of mentality.

One day, a few years back, we were in a dark, dark place when our young son, Nick, became willing and filled with courage to go toward a new beginning.  He made the choice to seek recovery.  As we drove to Nashville, Nick was on the phone with several different men.  Men of integrity who had tried to intervene and help him.  He held nothing back and told his story of brokenness and over and over his tears would flow.  His spirit was broken but he was willing to find healing.  Nick was admitted and with a quick goodbye, the door closed and he was gone.  We would not see him or speak to him for a while.  Phone privileges and visitation would come in time.  We could write letters, as could he, which to my knowledge he had never done in his life.  We stood there alone with each other and were completely numb.  I’m certain we were in shock.  I absolutely have no memory of our four-hour drive home.  The dark, dark night can freeze us in place but first responders, shepherds, and our brave children often lead us to willingness, to courage, to seek.

We know from the Luke story, that the shepherds were willing to go.  They arrived and they saw Him.  They were willing to hear and learn and believe.  Then, they returned to their normal world and they told people what had happened to them and "what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them".  What a story!  What a real-life challenge!

Run with haste, run and see with your own eyes.  Let's choose to go.  Let's choose to run even though we may be afraid.  Let's choose to see how God will meet us and then turn us around to go tell others.  Isn't that the story of Christmas and the shepherds?

One night, one angel appeared, one message, one decision, one risk to go, one sighting, one telling, one amazed, one belief.  One.  One.  One.

09 December, 2017

Joseph: Flip the Script

Cross-posted from Adventagain.blogspot.com
Ok, let's get honest...yes, the holidays are advertised as wonderful, magical, full of song, laughter and love.  We imagine seeing people singing in the streets, dancing and oh, so joyful...the 'Hallmark' Christmas in our minds.  However, honestly, our holiday season is probably not like that at all!!  We're stressed, the commercialism is overdone, the money is running out, the kids wish lists keep growing and changing, we have to be with family that we really don't even like!  On top of that we are burdened by wildfires out of control, a world in crisis, politics, family loss and grief.  This Christmas season may not be at all what we expected or wanted.  And it's scary.

And so, it was true for Joseph, Mary's fiancé.  The news Mary delivered to him was in no way what he expected, needed or wanted.  Certainly, the news leveled him, how could it not have?  Many of us may have received similar news in our lifetime.  One diagnosis, one accident, one phone call, one moment of news and our world crumbles.  Fear enters.
This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.
But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”...When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. Matthew 1:18-20, 24 
We learn from the angel that spoke to Joseph, "do not be afraid".  We learned from the shepherds watching flocks in the field, "do not be afraid", the angels exclaimed.  We learn not to fear from Mary's story too: the angel greeted her with, "do not be afraid."

God knows and acknowledges our condition, we are fearful people, clearly.  And in the world today there are many opportunities for us to be afraid.  But in all these stories we learn that God shows up in our weakness.  We learn that we are never alone.  We learn God provides a way and a direction.  But yet...fear persists.  Joseph and Mary still had to face the home folks.  They still had to face family and coworkers.  Life as they knew it had been altered and would never be the same.

Joseph had to keep going.  He had to believe what he dreamed and heard from the angel of the Lord.  And most interesting to me, Joseph had never met Jesus.  He hadn't been born!  He hadn't seen the work of Jesus, he hadn't received a Bible and read the stories of Jesus.  Yet...he believed and chose to live fear-free.

We, on the other hand, have heard of Jesus and have read about his entire life.  We've seen the words in red in our Bibles!  He speaks directly to us.  Yet, we experience fear this Christmas holiday.  We may fear finances, we may fear marriage failure, we may fear joblessness, we may fear situations we cannot even acknowledge.  What are we to do?  How can we experience the JOY of Christmas amidst the fear in the world?

Maybe, we remind ourselves of who Jesus is or we remind ourselves of what we believe about Him.  Who is Jesus to you?  How do you define Him?  In your own definition, can fear stand up to those traits you've thought about?  If He is truly God and we truly believe that He is divine...fear can never, never co-exist with Him.  For surely a God of the universe will always defeat our human fear...that's a God trait!

Do we dare take Jesus at His word?  In John 17, He gives us the answer just like He gave Joseph.
"And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me." John 17:22-23

The Glory God gave Jesus, Jesus then gave to those who believe.  Do you understand that significance?  The Glory of God has been given to us.  Maybe we choose, like Joseph, to believe.  Let us in this day, choose the JOY He alone has provided us.  He provided it by being born. He left heaven to come get us, He left heaven to come meet us, He left heaven to show us how to live and be fulfilled and whole and to not be afraid.  Let's trust in who He is and Who comes for us.

03 December, 2017

Flip the Script

Ahhh, the season of Christmas has arrived.  The gift buying is in full swing as well as decorations galore.  I actually spent 10 minutes on the gift wrap aisle trying to find the perfect gift wrap paper....seriously!  Note: this will be paper disposed of in 3 weeks!  The machine of Christmas has begun its march into my mind and actions.
I've asked and been asked, "What do you want for Christmas".  We all want to purchase the perfect gifts for each other.  We want to avoid those awkward Christmas morning moments of nervousness when we are secretly thinking, "Oh, I hope I like this gift or at least, act like I love this present from my mother-in-law!  Can I fake my joy"?

What do you want for Christmas?  I've been asked this question so often that I hear myself lamely reply, "Oh, I just don't know.  I don't NEED anything!"  But that's a lie, for sure!  I need.  So, maybe the question is, "What do you need for Christmas"?  Instead of our normal focus: what to cook, what we'll buy, what activities we'll organize, what sweater to purchase... can we flip the script this week?  Can we stop for today and ask a different question?

What does HE bring this Christmas?  This Jesus we are celebrating...what is He bringing you this Christmas?  What do you want from Jesus this Christmas?  What do you need?

Whoever you are today, wherever you are, I know one thing about you and about me: we need.  All of us need Jesus this Christmas.  Our quick minds may ask:
1. Doesn't He need my wish-list, my Pinterest page?  Does He have any idea of what I'd really like so I don't have to fake my response?
2.  Can I trust Him to give me my heart's desire?
3.  Does He give good gifts?

When Mary had her visit from the angel, she must have had similar thoughts.
...The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who 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 conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him 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 Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”
“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”
The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Luke 1:27b-35
I certainly don't presume to know or understand the depth of this story, Mary's feelings or her need but what I DO know is what verse 35 says:
"The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you." 
This is a Christmas gift waiting for you and me.  Whatever our need, whatever our situation, whatever is on our Christmas list....the Most High will overshadow you.  He will be there, He will heal, He will love, He will answer, He will give us exactly the perfect gift.  For He is a God who gives only good gifts.  We have no fear of what's inside the box and hoping we like it.  For what's inside the box we unwrap from Him is perfectly made and chosen for you and me.

One Christmas, when my daughter, Sarah, was 5 or 6 years old she presented me with a gift.  She had wrapped it herself.  The wrapping around the shoe box was crooked, wrinkled and the bow was loosely hanging.  She handed it to me and encouraged me to open it.  I'll never forget how she stood...so excited, her little hands clasped behind her back as she stood in her little pink gown.  "Open it, Mama".  And yes, in fear that I would have the right reaction, I begin to open this imperfect box.  Once I removed the wrapping, I removed the lid....as I looked through the tissue paper...it was empty.  I looked up at my Sarah, and she stood there beaming..."it's all my love, Mama."  I didn't have to fake my reaction for it was the one true gift I needed that day.

Flip the script of your heart....what do you need for Christmas?

28 October, 2017

Stop the Words

My world is so full of words.  Words of action, words of responsibility, words of news, words of pain and suffering, words of encouragement and teaching.  A few of these words are harmful to my heart, many are difficult to hear, some are beautiful, alive and uplifting...yet, I'm tired of the words.  It reminds me of days long ago when I couldn't wait for my babies to say their first words...then months later would wonder if they would ever quit talking!!

It's confusing that inasmuch as I treasure the gift of words, I've realized that they pull me away, they distract me, they lead me to rely on intellect and reason and problem-solving.  I get caught up in the cycle of words and they bind me and prevent me from finding my one source of hope and love.  Think about it, we wake up, we listen to radio and TV, we read email, we Tweet, we go to work, school, weekends are filled with activities and words, evening events, even church services where we're instructed and taught...we start to believe that these activities and actions are the ones that keep us informed, up-to-date, and offer us informed peace and hope and love.  Day after day we live in the unending flow of words from the world and for me...it's exhausting.

My mind and ears are aching.  And my spirit is hungry to hear the Word of truth.  But somehow, I may have found a remedy for my life.  And it is a strange fix, in fact it is two opposites that attract and help me.  These two strange bed-fellows are music and silence.  Let me explain.  Some of my best times are those that I put on my headphones with praise music blaring and get outside and walk.  The only words blasting in my ears and mind are words sung in glory to the King of Kings.  Words sung in joy that declare His power over my life.  As I walk, I only hear and experience His love and offer of healing and all I see before me is His creation.  Somehow, this becomes the most worshipful experience of my week.  Because it's just me and Him.  There are no distractions, no spoken words, no other people.

And the music is LOUD in my ears.  Why, you may wonder?  Because the world's distraction is so loud in my head that I find the music has to be LOUD so my mind doesn't wander and stays on my God.  Seriously, I'm so feeble-minded that I literally need the volume loud to keep my attention.  That is how much my brain has been impacted by the words of the world.

My next step after this loud music-searing experience is the exact opposite...silence.  As I arrive back at my home, I stop the music and simply sit in silence and listen.  Listen to the cry of my heart and listen to my God's response to my soul.  It becomes the most real part of my week.  For I have finally stopped the words, stopped the world, stopped my own goings.  I've had to break the cycle with the music so that I can find the moments with my God.

And the scary part for me is that the words are getting louder and louder in the world.  I'm becoming more and more distracted.  I've simply got to choose the Music and Silence more and more and more.  Am I the only one dealing with this words overload?  Are you?  How do you separate yourself for the world of words?  Would you try my "Music - Silence" experiment?

It is good to praise the Lord
    and make music to your name, O Most High,
proclaiming your love in the morning
    and your faithfulness at night,
to the music of the ten-stringed lyre
    and the melody of the harp.  Psalm 92:1-3

He says, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” Psalm 46:10

As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. Psalm 42:1


29 September, 2017

The Bucket List

"The Greatest Commandment: One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”

“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

“Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions." Mark 12:28-34

Have you read this part of the Bible before?  Or perhaps I should ask, how many times have we read these words?  Have they sunk in?  Let me offer the following story as a parallel to the one above...a modern day encounter with the Teacher.

The day started after a poor night of sleep.  The first appointment was at 7 a.m. so I had to scoot.  Bathed, dressed, make-up, hair done, cute outfit....ready for the day. Meetings happened and all was fine; however, I did notice a strange feeling, a disconnection throughout the day.  It was as though I was not really IN the day but participating at a distance.  I was just going through the motions of the day but no real connection.  It was a distraction but no real issue... probably just a lack of sleep the prior night.
Late in the day, I headed out to my last meeting of the day and the best part of my day.  We call the gathering, Chinese Bible Study.  We gathered, we ate, chatted and sat down to begin a new study.  And thus begin my unraveling.
As we opened the box of newly delivered books...alas, the wrong books had been shipped.  No, I had not bothered to open the box and check the shipment!  So, I decided to go ahead and teach these fifteen people from a new book, that I was barely comfortable with, and one that they did not have in front of them.  Warning bells were ringing in my head.  The day had already been strange but forge ahead, I did.  Have I mentioned that of the fifteen people gathered, we had multiple countries represented: Russia, China, South Korea, Bangladesh, Yemen and the US?  Did I also mention that some of those gathered spoke really great English and some spoke practically no English.  Some were new believers in Jesus and some had never before heard His name.
But, off I went and begin to teach or something like teaching!  Between the language barrier,  the new book, my before mentioned 'off-ness', a bunny trail of explanation of evil in the world and loud children in the room next door...I was slowly losing my mind, sorry, my focus.  All we needed was a dog to come running through the room or a chicken on the loose or any other random act of distraction...

And, we got it...a loud thud from the room next door and suddenly loud crying.  Mothers jumped up and ran to help, more people got up to help, more crying began as other babies became frightened too.  I felt like crying but didn't think that would help the situation too much.  After a fe-e-e-e-w-w minutes, things calmed.  But I had checked out.  I was done.  I knew of no way to bring the group back together.  All my own issues from the day began to mount in my head, the doubts swirled, the assault of words begin in my head....(did I mention that we were studying Genesis and the role of the serpent?)...you cannot do this, you are not a good teacher for these women, stop, stop talking.  And I did.
Our main leader took over the chaos, calmed us all and closed us out for the evening.  Whew! Inside my mind and spirit, were thoughts of inadequacy.  I remembered the preparation, the outward appearance, the effort to appear unflappable...I was none of those things in that moment.  And I was out of sorts.  My human effort had fallen very, very short.

I escaped to the kitchen and joined a Chinese sister.  She immediately asked me, "Do you have a bucket list?"  Thankful for the change in thoughts and conversation, I engaged with her.  And almost immediately she offered to share her top bucket list item.  "I want to talk to God," she said.  I, being the wise teacher again, said, "Oh, you want to pray more."  "No," she said.  "I want to talk with Him just like you and I are talking now.  I want to hear His voice.  That's number 1 on my bucket list!"

There I stood, defeated and helpless, and heard the Word of God spoken directly to me.

As the Mark account refers to "burnt offerings and sacrifices", I suddenly realized what that meant in my daily life.  In this day, my human efforts had failed.  I was bringing my whole effort, my modern day burnt offerings and sacrifices but they fell woefully short.  And, in that kitchen with a young woman who's eyes blazed with a new love for God,  I was blessed, so very blessed to be reminded....my efforts, my performance are not the issue.  GOD loving us first is the issue and then our response: Love Him with all my heart, soul, mind and strength.

Number 1 on my bucket list: I want to hear His voice.

"We as modern-day believers often grow content with so much less than what’s available to us in Christ. We grow content with programs, sermons, worship, and Bible study that’s void of God’s presence. We believe that the Christian life is one solely marked by discipline and moral living rather than transformative encounters with the holiness of God. Pursue the greater things today. Press into the heart of your Creator that you might know how truly near he is. Seek him and discover the wealth of his presence and love that has been available to you all along. Instead of programs about him, may your life be marked by meeting directly with your good and loving Father."  First 15 Devotional, September 27, 2017

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