Advent: Beating back the darkness

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The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.

To think that a baby–one you could physically see and touch–one like any other, totally dependent on another’s care could grow to be our Savior and the Savior of the world. This is the wonder of Advent and it’s ours to ponder yet again…..right along with Mary and Joseph and the dumbstruck Shepherds watching their flocks.

Even more amazing is that much of the world has still rejected that Light when all they have to do is turn and open their eyes and hearts. Even those of us who know and have embraced Him as Savior and Lord are still stumbling around much of the time in darkness. “Come Lord Jesus! Beat back the darkness of this world and calm the storm in each of our hearts!”

If not for Him, this world would be a pretty bleak place.

For the peace that He offers rests in our every difficult circumstance, our every sleepless night…….that is our great hope now and forever, that’s the hope of Advent.

Each light in my home is not to honor Santa or Satan, (as some legalistic hardliners will have you believe), it’s to honor Christ. Each string that bursts forth brilliance and color represents the unapproachable Light that emanates from His throne. Each sparkle on the tree represents the Light that shone, reflecting on each face in the stable that night. Each twinkle reminds me of the Angelic host that stupefied the Shepherds out tending their flocks.

Let’s beat back the darkness this Advent…….our world needs Him like never before. Seek out the quiet moments, listen for the rustle of Angel wings and the sound of a baby crying across the hollow plains, for unto us a child is born, a Savior is given……..And of His reign, their will be no end.

You who bring Good News to Zion, go up on a high mountain. You who bring Good News to Jerusalem, lift up your voice with a shout, lift it up and do not be afraid. Say to the towns of Judah, Here is your God. Isaiah 40: 9

Believing in the Big Buts

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“So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows”……..Jesus

The past two weeks have been unsettled……..for my household, for the world. It’s easy to be dismayed when you look at the events unfolding all around us. Have you ever talked to someone and even as they are giving you a compliment you can feel the “big but” coming? I hate that. It’s like giving someone a gift and then grabbing it out of their hands  and saying, “Just kidding!” Why say anything? It’s really horrible conversation etiquette. The Bible puts it this way:  “Let your yes be yes and your no be no.” 

Coordinating conjunctions aside, there is one occasion where I love the word, “but” and that is when God says it. That’s because when He says it, there is always a wonderfully encouraging promise attached to it. There are probably hundreds of places in the Bible where this phrase is uttered…….”But the Lord.”

But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one……2 Thessalonians 3:3

But the LORD has become my fortress, and my God the rock in whom I take refuge. Psalm 94:22

But the LORD is with me like a mighty warrior; so my persecutors will stumble and not prevail. They will fail and be thoroughly disgraced; their dishonor will never be forgotten. Jeremiah 20:11

The lot is cast into the lap,  but its every decision is from the Lord. Proverbs 16:33

I decided last week to break my “not until Thanksgiving” rule and put up a couple of Christmas decorations in my room. One string lit up and the other didn’t, but the little tabletop tree fired right up, just like it does year after year. It made me happy. We all need a little more happy. So this weekend I plan to do some more. I intent to light up the whole house and proclaim all over again that in our dark world a Bright Light has dawned and never dimmed. And I will have overwhelming moments of that peace that passes understanding in every little thing I lift out of the dusty storage boxes. 

I will remember that Heaven touched down for a brief moment in time and all the shadows in this land sprang for cover, for good. He ended this shadow-land living by paying our ransom once and for all. We have a living Hope that no one and nothing can ever snuff out.  Not isis, not boko haram, not Alzheimer’s, not unpaid bills, not stress or fatigue or anything else under the sun.

It’s crazy. We have Christian refugees who have been bombed out of their homes and lost everything but each other, yet they found their everything in Jesus. The spark of Holy Spirit Hope in their eyes makes them our brothers and sisters. And I am burdened for them.

But God……..He watches over the sparrows and He keeps count of every single one.

Clinging to the big Buts today.

River of life or stagnant pool?

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Anyone who believes in me may come and drink! For the Scriptures declare, ‘Rivers of living water will flow from his heart.'” John 7:38

Those who live in the desert especially know how crucial fresh water is for survival. Right now California is experiencing a drought. Growing up there, I lived through one back in the seventies and I’ll never forget it. Every drop was precious then and now. Can you imagine being lost in the desert, your last drop emptied from your canteen a day ago and coming upon what you thought was a fresh body of water, only to find it stagnant and undrinkable?

How about the kind of water Jesus was talking about? If you know Him, you have that living water. It’s a fresh and inexhaustible supply flowing out of your heart that’s available to anyone who asks. Can someone expect to come to you and hold out their cup and be refreshed or do they find water as bitter as the water of Marah?

When the Israelites came upon Then Moses led Israel from the Red Sea and they went into the Desert of Shur. For three days they traveled in the desert without finding water. When they came to Marah, they could not drink its water because it was bitter. (That is why the place is called Marah. So the people grumbled against Moses, saying, “What are we to drink?”

They were extremely disappointed after being in the desert 3 days, that the water they finally did find was undrinkable. After Moses cried out to God, He directed Moses to a stick on the ground. When Moses threw it in the water it became fresh. I was thinking about that…….one commentary said that the piece of wood represents the Cross. I would agree, since it’s Christ’s work on the cross that makes those rivers of living water flow out of our hearts.

So the question remains. What about you? What about me? Can someone hold out their cup expecting to receive words that will give life? Can they expect refreshment or after tasting what you have to offer will they turn away in disappointment. Do your words edify and lift up or do they tear down? Are people drawn to you because they see the living water flow out through your easy laughter, soft words, humility of spirit and all around likeability?

Are you easy to be around or do people have to watch everything they say around you for fear of being judged or condemned?

Are you a good listener or are you already forming your own words even as the person across from you is still speaking?

I think Jesus was incredibly easy to be around, that’s why crowds followed Him everywhere He went. Of course we aren’t Jesus. We aren’t perfect. But He does expect us to display the fruits of His Spirit. (Galatians 5:22,23)

How willing are you to be a peacemaker? Are you willing to sacrifice your need to be right in order to make peace?

Are you willing to apologize even when you and everyone else in the room knows you had your facts right because it’s what God would have you do? My precious friend did this the other day and I am not so sure I would have been obedient to the Holy Spirit like she was in this instance. Nobody could understand why she was doing it but she said, “Because it’s the right thing to do.”

She was being nudged by the Holy Spirit to make peace in a situation even when she and everyone else in the room knew that she had been in the right and the other person clearly in the wrong. It reminded me of the scene in “War Room” when Tony gives back those drugs to the company even after he’d already lost his job. As Christians we are asked to do certain things that just don’t make sense to the world. Those are the hard things.

Being that living water isn’t easy. Being that living water means you have to be readily available for those who are thirsty. It means you are a peacemaker and think of others as better than yourself. It means you have to love the unlovable in your workplaces, homes, in the parking lot. It means you can’t put a stopper on your own supply because you’re afraid you’ll run out.

Jesus invitation stands open.

Someone is thirsty for what we have today.

Please Lord:

Help me to be a fountain of cool clear

refreshing water to offer hope and help

to the thirsty wanderer.

Help me not be a stagnant pool but a living supply

of what Jesus gave to me freely.

Help me be easy to be around.

And help me be available and ready

to give an answer for the hope

and joy that lives within me.

And help me always strive to do the right thing.

No matter what.

Amen.

When your cup of sacrifice feels like it’s overflowing

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Sometimes it seems like your cup of sacrifice is overflowing. You want to hold your hand tightly over the cup, never mind that it’s spilling down your arm. You want to say, “When….when……enough already! Those who are caregivers, feel this. They live it daily. I see it. Everyday I see a daughter’s love overflow in terms of sacrifice. In terms of love that hurts.

I see the Walgreen’s bag and I think all these thoughts. I think that most people don’t know the backstory, but God does. He always does. I take the Lay’s potato chips and the Snickers and the coke and put them in their places until her next visit to her Mom in Room 8.

I see that bag and think of all it represents…….I think of about 100 bags just like that over the past two years since her Mom has been in the Alzheimer’s facility and I think of all the in-between years leading up to it. A best friend knows.

The back story. We all have one. Hers was a difficult childhood. I guess you could say that her Mom was pretty much emotionally and many times physically not available. Chicken-scratch poor and married at 17, she was ill-equipped for parenting. She says, “Mom did the best she knew how.” But when best is sorely lacking you grow up with some scars.

You see, her Mom didn’t deal in emotion. You learn early not to cry, to stifle emotion when you’re told “Crying never solves anything.” So you bury, and submerge, and try harder to not mess up, since everything you do is watched with a critical eye and nothing you do ever seems to measure up.

When all the good you do is passed over and the one mistake is brought out into the limelight, you learn to keep trying for that golden ticket of praise that never comes.

But that didn’t put a damper on the bright spark of your personality. Living with a mean brother meant there was always chaos. Yelling and screaming were the norm. It was a fight or flight existence. So you went out and got to know all the neighbors. Did their lawns almost from the time you could walk.

And all along, you dreamed of somewhere quiet, somewhere safe. A refuge to call your own.

Later in life you stepped in front of your older brother when he thought it was okay to start beating his wife and kids, and even his own Mother. You took the blows for that, then your Mom got mad because she couldn’t understand why you didn’t want to pick him up from jail.

When you were 17, before you graduated, they left for overseas and didn’t come back for 13 years. You took care of the bills and the house and the yard, and then got kicked out when your Mom said you had to make way for abusive brother and new wife to move in. After all, he had a family.

You moved into the condo they left trashed and then he had the nerve to ask for rent.

And then there was the money your folks borrowed for the house you both lived in, the settlement money from the terrible accident that broke your back. After the house was sold you never saw that money.

For years you walked around with all that past, until the day you went to that river and held it under along with a lot of other things. You finally found that quiet place of peace in the person of Jesus. Your Mom was there and your Dad too, wondering why anyone would be crazy enough to be baptized in a river. But they were there.

All these years later, I watch you give your Mom back her dignity day after day. You replace incorrectly matched shoes, and 2 extra pair of underwear. You cut her hair and nails.

You learned a long time ago that the best way to heal is by making peace with the past.

Please know this. This post of mine is by no means meant to downgrade or disrespect your Mom, in fact, the opposite is true. For in light of everything else, there is one very important thing which she did incredibly right. She had you.

She had you even when they recommended an abortion. She had you, even though she was sick and they gave her those terrible drugs, even with all the risk,  she still said yes to having you, to giving you life. And for that, I will be eternally grateful; for that she gets my praise.

As your best friend for 26 years now, I stand in awe and amazement at how you have lived your life all these years. How you have lived out your faith by taking care of your family and putting yourself last too many times to count.

I watched as you sacrificed by taking a lower paying job so you could be nearer your Mom and have more time to take care of her. You took that job and made it into a ministry of love for the kids you drive to school every day.

So this is for you Elaine, because you never give yourself credit, I will. It’s what best friends are for.

I dedicate this post to sacrifice in all its many forms. We have a duty, those of us who write, to tell the back stories. All those who died 14 years ago today had back stories too, and we must keep those stories alive for their children and grandchildren and all of us who remain. And to Jesus Christ who paid the ultimate price so that we all might live.

The story God longs to write

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“Jesus watches us”……. that’s the line that jumped out of my Dad’s letter to me.

There is a story God longs to write on your heart. You may not know it, but your very own life has an BC and an AD attached to it. God has thrown the invitation out and is waiting for you to accept. Salvation is the modern-day miracle of our times. Our redemption story is the single most valuable thing we can offer to a world waiting for hope. A changed life is the single most powerful testimony of God’s glory here on earth. You say miracles don’t happen? Look in the mirror. If you are a Christ follower today, you are a miracle.

As I was sitting in my “prayer chair” this morning I started thinking about the changed lives in my own little circle and then I looked back on my own life and I had to go from sitting to kneeling in a hurry. What grace has touched my life. At the age of somewhere around 13 or 14 I felt the Holy Spirit’s tug and I knew it was a decision I couldn’t put off. Where did that come from? I can still remember the night of my Baptism, the pastor in waders, me looking out to the crowd and giving my profession of faith……taking my place quietly after it was over, wet head and all. And the years after……when He pulled me back from the brink, delivering me from anorexia with that one dream and how the very next morning I ate food again. It was scrambled eggs and we were all crying, Mom and Dad and I.

And I remember Elaine when we first met and how she asked me how I could be so hopeful when she knew my husband had just died. Her life had started out in church but she had left that behind, as many of us do. Her path was diverted and for a while she wandered, but God was waiting to finish His story on her heart; He remembered that little white-haired girl with the flouncy skirts, sitting in her Uncle’s church in the front row requesting songs while her Aunt played “I’ll Fly Away.”

She left a whole life behind when she came to our town, and I never realized at the time how hard that probably was. She was baptized in a river, which her parents thought was crazy, but they were there anyway. And on the way home that night we ran over a carpet on the freeway. To this day we still laugh about it, how it caught under the car smoldering and it was like a Chinese fire drill, everyone bailing out to dislodge it.

I think of my Mom who was raised in church but didn’t know Jesus until around the age of around 35 or 40. When she met Him her life changed forever. Before, she worried about everything and had two bleeding ulcers to prove it. After, she was healed, body mind and spirit. She has impacted many lives by stepping out in faith, introducing herself to strangers and inviting them to Bible studies too many to count over the years.

And my Dad and brother have their own redemption stories too, no less miraculous. My Dad met Jesus in a church he didn’t particularly like……but Jesus is like that, He can show up anywhere. My brother wasn’t too keen on that church either, but on Easter Sunday 1982 he walked down the aisle as I sang in the choir.

My brother’s wife miraculously met Jesus after someone invited her to a play about Heaven and hell. Not long after she went through her own personal hell of chemo and cancer. She gave it all she had, but it wasn’t enough and my brother’s love big as it was couldn’t hold her here either. In that battle, it was Jesus love that broke through in the midst of her pain and said, “I’ll take it and you.” She died with a smile on her face and sings today with the angels.

The heart-breaking truth is: Sometimes the prayers for healing aren’t answered and no one knows why, but the important thing is, we know Who she’s with right now.

The single most important event in your life has either taken place or is waiting to take place.

It’s just three words, “Yes, I believe.” Someone is waiting to hear your redemption story today……….Like the eunuch, they are ready to say yes, they just need the right Someone to put their hope and trust in.

And the eunuch said to Philip, “About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus. And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?”And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him. And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away, and the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. Acts 8:26-39

No Wiggle Room in the Beatitudes

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Yesterday I wrote a post. It was after I had read something that fired me up a little. But after I posted it, it didn’t feel quite right. I felt a bit unsettled the rest of the day. And a friend’s comment made me think, (Thank you Mark). Sometimes we get off track a little because we just want to say what we want to say. And sometimes all it takes is a thoughtful nudge to get us going in the right direction again.

I have since taken the post down, but the gist of it was that I didn’t think we had an obligation to pray for our leaders when they are corrupt. Rethinking that position, I think that maybe we need to pray for them even more. The reason why is because when we do that? We get fresh healing ourselves.

So today, I go back to those crowds and that dusty road where Jesus walked in the middle of the throng, and I imagine myself as the woman pressing against Him reaching for the hem of His garment. You see, she had no illusions. She knew she needed healing. Sometimes I forget I still need it to.

This morning as I leafed through the pages of my big old marked up red Bible, the one I reach for when I need to remember when it was all so exciting and new; and I heard Jesus voice ringing through the hillsides when He preached that famous sermon on the mount known as the Beattidudes.  And surprise, surprise……I found no wiggle room there when it comes to love and forgiveness. No wonder those words seemed so radical back then. They still do.

You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. Matthew5:43-45

Even Isis, Lord? Even those who might seek to do me or my family harm? Even those who misunderstand what I am trying to say, who misinterpret and twist my words? Even someone who might even kill someone I love? Even them?

The answer is always the same. Yes. We are called to love and forgive. Anything and everything. Because He did.

He forgave me everything, and He intercedes for me even up to this very day, and pours fresh grace into my life, even when I make bad choices. He has filled me with His Holy Spirit who enables me to do the impossible. I think of the laundry list of things I have neglected to do for Him, times I have turned the other way when someone who glanced my direction may have really needed a kind word.

All the things I said I would do tomorrow.

I am humbled afresh today. I think it’s possible to stand down for peace even while holding up your convictions. The Beatitudes have taught me again how far I have to go in that direction.

Holding onto His hem today……….all I need is one touch.

Jesus got up and began to follow him, and so did His disciples. And a woman who had been suffering from a hemorrhage for twelve years, came up behind Him and touched the fringe of His cloak; for she was saying to herself, “If I only touch His garment, I will get well.”……Matthew 9:19-21

The Art of Resting

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There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God;  for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience. Hebrews 4:9-11

This morning I have been reflecting on just what it means to have a “Sabbath rest.” Jesus did many “works” of healing on the Sabbath. He also walked many miles on Sabbath days. He didn’t follow the traditional Jewish Shabbat of not lifting a finger and he was sharply criticized for not “honoring” it the way the Jewish religious community thought He should. But honor it He did. Each Sunday, we celebrate all over again that He rose from the dead on that day. I can’t think of a better way to honor the Sabbath.

Each person must decide in their heart how best to do that by looking at the examples found in Scripture. Some people decide not to shop or go to stores. For me, it’s more important that I spend some quiet time reflecting, and resting my mind (and body) thinking about what it all means. To carve out a special day is a Holy thing. It’s a way of saying, “This day is different from all the rest.”

It’s hard sometimes to slow the mind down. Harder for some than others. One way to do this is by refusing to think about the task list I have set up for the next day. Another of my favorite ways is by taking a walk. When we went on our recent road trip, I took a walk one morning on a meandering path along the beach. All along the way, someone had left some memorial stones. If I had been distracted I might have missed them but I am so glad I didn’t. It was a Holy walk.

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Jesus is, in fact our very own Sabbath rest. Without Him, there is no rest. He is rest personified.

Happy Holy day to you all…….leave your burdens outside the door. Still your mind and know that you are part of a miracle.

The world is outside……many voices clamoring for attention and the headlines all seem to be screaming. But……the Lord of the Sabbath is still here.

 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30