Monday, December 31, 2018

A New Thing!

16 This is what the Lord says—
    he who made a way through the sea,
    a path through the mighty waters,
17 who drew out the chariots and horses,
    the army and reinforcements together,
and they lay there, never to rise again,
    extinguished, snuffed out like a wick:
18 “Forget the former things;
    do not dwell on the past.
19 See, I am doing a new thing!
    Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
    and streams in the wasteland.

(Isaiah 43:16-19)
New Year's Eve... Looking back, looking ahead. Will it be the same old, same old? Or will God do a new thing?  Something we desperately want and need?  Often times we are so busy wallowing in the mud puddle, we do not look back to see the sea God has brought us through in the past.  And we forget His Character.  God will make a way; He will provide the refreshing we need; He will see us through the floods and storms and struggles.  He can and will do new things.  Will we stop and see them? Thank Him? Praise Him? Trust Him? Let's begin by pausing to thank and praise Him for the far past, the recent past, and the ever-present Holy Spirit Who will be with us as we welcome in the New.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

He Came, He Saw, He Conquered

33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16) 
Christ came into the world on a mission - to be the Savior we all need.  While He walked on earth He saw things with a totally unique perspective - as God and man.  He saw the works of the evil ruler of this world, as His Holiness both attracted and repelled them.  He saw the struggles of people as poor lost sheep needing a shepherd. He did something about it. He defeated sin and Satan, and provided His peace to see us through the struggles. He could see His ultimate victory on the cross, over the grave, and at the end of time.  In Him, we can have peace, just as the angels said when He came.  He would tell you today: "Peace, be still!"  He's got this.  

Saturday, December 29, 2018

The One Who Came and Is to Come

Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God[a]; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.  (John 14)
Advent. Coming.  That has been our focus for the past few weeks: Christ's Incarnation, His coming to earth to be born, live, and die as we do, then make the way for us to have eternal life with Him forever. His resurrection and ascension back to His home with the Father has presented us with the next step for which we wait: His coming again.  Advent involves anticipation.  As we look back to His first coming, we also look ahead to the second. We have His word on it, just as we did on the first one.  We can trust the word of The Word.  As we wait, may we continue to respond as those who were receptive of His first coming: living joyfully, hopefully, obediently, serving Him and offering our lives to Him as He continues to carry out His wonderful story with the happy ending: forever in God's presence. 

Friday, December 28, 2018

Some much needed rest... and help

28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 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. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11)
We wear ourselves out trying to do it on our own.  This is true not only physically, but also spiritually.  In context, that is what Jesus is talking about: trying to live life successfully and pleasing to God on our own.  So, He invites us to come to Him not only for much needed rest (see yesterday's blog), but also for a lighter load to continue our journey.  Rest in itself will be insufficient if we keep doing the same thing all over again.  It is as we share the yoke of life with Him that doing life becomes doable, bearable, and even refreshing and rewarding. In these next few days, come to Him for rest, refreshment, and a realistic way to live life - physically and spiritually - by the grace God offers in Christ. 

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Pause and Be Refreshed

Praise the Lord, my soul;
    all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Praise the Lord, my soul,
    and forget not all his benefits—
who forgives all your sins
    and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit
    and crowns you with love and compassion,
who satisfies your desires with good things
    so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

(Psalm 103:1-5)
Probably one of the greatest blessings of celebrating Advent is that it forces us to slow down, spend time with others, and rest.  We relax, sometimes sleep in, and sit back and consider all the blessings God has given us.  Gratitude and contentment do much to restore our souls and renew our strength.  Of course, we know we will need it when we get back into the "grind" and the challenges of the new year, but that is ok.  Enjoy the renewal God offers. Worship Him. Thank Him. Come to Him for fresh forgiveness and look forward in Hope.  Let Him lift you up and remind you of His love.  Taste the satisfaction of soul only He can provide.  Be Refreshed. 

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Part of the Big Picture

28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:
29 “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
    you may now dismiss[a] your servant in peace.
30 For my eyes have seen your salvation,
31     which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
    and the glory of your people Israel.”
(Luke 2)
Today is the day we look back and say: "What just happened?" After a whirlwind of activity for the past few weeks, then an array of deep emotions and stopping to spend time relaxing and reflecting with those we hold dear, we take one last breath before heading back into "reality." What just happened? Simeon speaks on our behalf. Salvation has come. Christ has come not just for his family and friends, or even a nation, but for all nations.  Just a Christmas is celebrated around the world, uniting all of His followers for a few hours, He is doing the same each and every day, and into eternity.  It is that fact that helps us go on and face the future and eternity.  God has kept His promises and will continue to do so. So may we, like Simeon, look back and praise God, saying "It's going to be okay. God is on His throne. He has a future prepared for us to enter. We can trust in Him and His Sent Son, our Savior. 

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

A Peaceful Day...

It's a headache day...  It brings back memories of a visit-to-the-ER-Christmas a number of years ago (But not nearly as bad as that day) Yet, in spite of it all, even that day is far more remembered for its peace.  No matter how many or how few people or presents there are at Christmas, from the time we begin the Christmas Eve candlelight service until the last scrap of paper is cleaned up, the word of the day is Peace.  Jesus brings it with Him.  May He bring it into your heart and home today. 

Monday, December 24, 2018

Thoughtful Response...

16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. 17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. (Luke 2)
Impulsive.  That is the adjective of our day: react. Be it with our impulsive spending, or eating, or tweeting, or quitting, or yelling in anger - our society tends to react impulsively.  The running of the shepherds to see the newborn Messiah was no such impulsive reaction. They had to arrange for the care of the sheep, then go.  They had to decide whether to share a somewhat impossible sounding story. And Mary - she is pictures as responding most thoughtfully of all - treasuring up memories, meditating on their meaning, watching and waiting what would this life of mothering the Messiah really be like.  Most of all, it was not all about them; it was about God. He received the glory. It was not their experience or opinion - it was God defined.  May our thoughts and meditations be such today and tomorrow, as we again reflect on God the Son coming to earth. 

Sunday, December 23, 2018

The Billboard of Christmas

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 among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:14)
I was driving home last night on the interstate in Ohio, when all of a sudden everyone was traveling in the left lane. Why? Three miles ahead we could all see the flashing lights along the side of the road. The law of the state, and the wisdom of driving, told us to pull over in response to the sight.  Think as well of another newer, familiar sight: lighted billboards.  Some are so big and bright they have been restricted because of their distraction to motorists. The message above was much brighter than that.  The preceeding verses tell us that when one lone angel appeared, the accompanying light of the Glory of God was enough to scare the shepherds half to death. Now there is a multitutde of them in the middle-of-the-night sky.  It is a major violation of code, as the sign flashes: "Glory to God in the highest" - God is at work here! Slow down, stop and see!"  The second line of the sign is also noteworthy: "on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased."  God is pleased with us? That is enough to take use by surprise!  Rather, God is pleased, He wants to, He is doing something here to show His favor. He is coming to do something we desperately need done (far more than fix potholes!) Slow down, take notice, and respond appropriately. This billboard is not illegal; it is a matter of (eternal) life and death. 

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Fear Factor

10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2)
Linus, the Peanuts character, is a hero.  In all of the craziness of Christmas, he leaves the comfort and quietness of his security blanket, steps up and recites these verses.  All the fears of buying the wrong present, messing up the school play, or dealing with grumpy people are put to rest with these words: "Fear not... for.  The bottom line reason to not fear? A Savior is born to save the day, but more importantly our very lives.  Everything esle is put in perspective in that "hear-a-pin-drop" moment when Linus speaks.  All eyes and ears are on him because of this profound truth. Take time to stop and listen to the reason and let it's truth penetrate your soul: "Fear not, for..."

Friday, December 21, 2018

Stop minding your own business!

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. (Luke 2)
This time of year it is hard to avoid people. Everywhere we go there is a crowd: from the roadways to the stores to the post office and restaurants.  Crowds make us wait and test our patience. They also push others into our lives.  Most of us at one time or another have been told to mind our own business. But this time of year forces us into interactions with others: grumpy people who wait, a shopper frustrated with her tired children, workers who are pushed to the max. Maybe we need to stop and realize that God is putting us into their lives to make a difference. We need to help, show grace, and turn thoughts, speech and actions into joyful celebrations.  The angel and his companions rocked the world of these shepherds by bringing them off the hillside and into the city to share the Good News.  May we allows God to invade our little world and use us (in a positive way) to invade and impact the lives of people the next few crazy days. 

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Livin' the Life

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. (Luke 2:1-7)
"Livin' the Life" or "Livin' the Dream. That's how some people I encounter often reply almost every time I ask how they are.  What they are implying is that they are going through the daily grind, working hard to make ends meet and pay taxes, and are stuck in a system of life that is unfulfilling.  Joseph and Mary could identify. Bureacratic red tape, paying taxes, verging on homlessness, they were caught up in a story they could not escape. Maybe not.  Both had received angelic visits to let them in on the Bigger Story.  She had said "yes"; he had done "yes." In a world of victim mentality, we often forget decisions and agreements we have made that get us where we are.  They really did not want to be in a barn in Bethlehem when she bore her firstborn Son, but they were along for the ride, and taking it all in.  (I've been to Bethlehem, and wouldn't want to live there). But when we let God into our daily lives and allow Him to pull us back to see the bigger story, life is worth living, and the daily grind is not such a grind after all.  He has a plan - a good plan, a great plan.  Will we joyfully accept our part in it, or will we fatalistically trudge our way through? 

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Finding Your Part in God's Plan

76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
    for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people
    in the forgiveness of their sins,
78 because of the tender mercy of our God,
    whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high
79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
    to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

(Luke 1:76-79)
Zechariah had been unable to speak for about a year. For some people, that would have been enough for them to explode before the year was up.  When he does finally speak, he first utters words not about his newborn son, but One Whom his son will serve as announcer and introducer. Then, at this point quoted above, he begins to tell how his son will fit in with God's plan.  Playing second fiddle is no insult. Neither is playing oboe or cymbals.  God has chosen to show mercy to all those who receive it. He has chosen to send His Son to give light to not only those with whom He had a history, but those in darkness - Jew and Gentile alike.  And he uses us to help prepare them to receive Him.  Find your part. Play your part. Let them see the Light. Let them see Jesus in you today. 

Monday, December 17, 2018

Christmas Contemplation...

19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 1)
It is interesting to look at the thinking process of Joseph in this sequence of events surrounding the Incarnation.  He was a just man - he believed in justice and the righteousness of God.  He wanted to do the right thing.  He was humble and unselfish - the easy thing was to throw it all on Mary, but he was not for taking the easy way out.  Most of all, he was seeking God and open to the Holy Spirit to speak into his life and decision process.  As we celebrate Christ's coming, may we be bent on the same things: taking time to think and pray, looking out on the interests of others and not just ourselves, and doing the right thing, no matter what.  

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Knowing Someone Understands...

46 And Mary said,
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
47     and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
    For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
    and holy is his name.
50 And his mercy is for those who fear him
    from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
    he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
52 he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
    and exalted those of humble estate;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
    and the rich he has sent away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
    in remembrance of his mercy,
55 as he spoke to our fathers,
    to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”(Luke 1)
JOY!  That is the theme of today during this Advent season. It's the song of the angels to the shepherds and the testimony of the shepherds to all they encountered.  But before that there was joy in the heart of the young woman who was carrying the Messiah.  Mary here expresses her joy after hearing from Elizabeth that the child she was carrying - John the Baptist - leaped for Joy when Mary entered the room.  Mary was with someone who understood. She knew that God was with her. She knew joy - that however crazy this experience might get, God was in control and all would be well.  Christ's coming reminds us that God understands. God knows we have sinned; He knows we are tempted; He knows we tend to think that no one understands. Then He sent Jesus - to be tempted in all ways as we are, to struggle against sin and Satan, to experientially understand what it is like to be human. Christ understands. And though He came through it all without sin, He does not proudly say: "What's the problem? I did it, why can't you?" Instead He says "I did it for you." Joy says "Thank you," and trusts in the One who understands, forgives, and loves us. 

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Fear and Finding Favor

26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin's name was Mary.28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” 29 But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. 30 And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. (Luke 1)
It's almost automatic: angelic message from God means fearful response. It doesn't happen every day, and when it does, it seems like one's life is being invaded.  But from God's perspective (which is the true one) this is "finding favor" with God.  It means God has chosen this person for something special, unique, important, and adventurous.  Sound good?  Yet, for many of us, we would rather stay in fear than see what God has in store for us.  Mary and Joseph found out. God called; they answered; it was a journey of a lifetime and more.  It's all a matter of what we do with our fears - hide behind them, or turn to God in trust in the face of the unknown, the new, the downright scary. May this Advent season be a time when we are ready to listen to God's call, face our fears, and say "Yes, Lord, whatever you want; I'll do it."