Thursday, December 31, 2015

A Bit of a Change-up

UPDATE:  Yes, did pick up my post which I would have ordinarily have posted here at Resplendent.  You can read it there tomorrow.
Happy New Year, Everyone!

Good morning!

I was recently invited to write a post for a site called  This is sort of different for me, but you can find my usual morning post there (shortly, I hope...if it gets approved).  If they reject it, I'll post it here tomorrow.  I'm sorry for the confusion, but they won't let me post it here, if they pick it up.

Y'all have a great "last-day-of-2015", and don't forget to buy your turnip greens and black-eyed peas for lunch tomorrow!

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Pitching My Tent

This is what woke me this morning - - thunder, lightning, more torrential rain and a moaning dog. For the past several days, in my area, we have had more rain than we care to mention.  Yesterday, I got a call that our little Waverunner had completely floated off of its perch and headed out on its own excursion to the middle of the lake.  Fortunately, a kind neighbor went out to get it and re-moor it, this time tied to the dock.  Apparently, the current el Nino system at work on the west coast has had numerous weird repercussions across our country.  Another example is that we have just experienced the warmest December on record here.  I have resisted turning on the air conditioning system, even though temps inside the house have risen to over 75 degrees....weird, just weird!

When you are a part-time teacher and blogger, whose teaching is mostly online, your schedule is quite flexible.  So, here I sit in the dark house, the candle Son 2 gave me for Christmas burning by my side, with the lights of our Christmas tree still glowing.  (Yes, I love it so much that I'll keep it up until after New Years.)  I'm grateful to not have to get out into the fray this morning although I'll be grading a big stack of assignments here at home, later in the day.

Yesterday, a member of our college youth group posted a video to Facebook about a thankful mother. (I'll give you the link in Sources: below.)  I found the video to be very convicting, as I am not nearly as focused on thankfulness as I need to be.  In America we have a designated national day of thanksgiving, the 4th Thursday in November each year.  Unfortunately, as time has gone on, that day has become more about Christmas shopping, overeating and football, than about giving thanks.  Even so, even if on that designated day we are truly thankful, thankfulness should not be limited to one day of the year.  On that note,  Psalm 92 (AMP):

1 It is a good and delightful thing to give thanks to the Lord,

To sing praises to Your name, O Most High,

2  To declare Your lovingkindness in the morning

And Your faithfulness by night,

3  With an instrument of ten strings and with the harp,

With a solemn sound on the lyre.

4  For You, O Lord, have made me glad by Your works;

At the works of Your hands I joyfully sing.

5  How great are Your works, O Lord!

Your thoughts are very deep [beyond man’s understanding].

6  A senseless man [in his crude and uncultivated state] knows nothing,

Nor does a [self-righteous] fool understand this:

7  That though the wicked sprout up like grass
And all evildoers flourish,
They will be destroyed forever.

8  But You, Lord, are on high forever.
9  For behold, Your enemies, O Lord,

For behold, Your enemies will perish;
All who do evil will be scattered.

10  But my horn [my emblem of strength and power] You have exalted like that of a wild ox;

I am anointed with fresh oil [for Your service].
11  My eye has looked on my foes;

My ears hear of the evildoers who rise up against me.
12  The righteous will flourish like the date palm [long-lived, upright and useful];

They will grow like a cedar in Lebanon [majestic and stable].
13  Planted in the house of the Lord,

They will flourish in the courts of our God.
14  [Growing in grace] they will still thrive and bear fruit and prosper in old age;

They will flourish and be [a]vital and fresh [rich in trust and love and contentment];
15  [They are living memorials] to declare that the Lord is upright and faithful [to His promises];

He is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in Him.

What a great psalm with which to end the year!

In verses 1 and 2 we see two of the Hebrew names for God:  1) Adonai and 2) El Elyon.  One of these days I'm going to do a study of the Names of God and take any of you interested along with me.  So fascinating!  The most holy name of God in Hebrew would not be pronounced by the people.  It was written YHWH and is referred to as the Sacred Tetragrammaton, meaning "4 consonants".  Instead of calling Him by this name, the Hebrews instead spoke His name as "Adonai" when they encountered the written YHWH in the text.  When you read the Lord" in verse one, in the Hebrew it is spoken as "Adonai".  This is the most commonly used name for GOD in the Old Testament, occurring over 300 times.  This term only refers to the supreme God above all gods, whereas the more basic form of the word "Adon" (translated in our texts as "Lord") can refer to humans, angels but is also applied to theophanies and Father God Himself as well.

Then, there is the name "El Elyon", which means "The Most High God" (vs. 2).

The psalmist says that we should "bookend" our days by thanking and praising God morning and night ... and at all points in-between.  I have to confess that thanksgiving and praising do not make up the bulk of my prayers.  They should.  These types of prayers delight the LORD.

We should "pitch our tent in thankfulness" - - thank Him for all things.  However, the psalmist says to specifically thank Him for:
1.  His loving kindness to us (vs. 2)
2.  His faithfulness to us (vs. 2)
3.  His mighty works (vs. 4 and 5)
4.  His deep, unsearchable thoughts - - His character (vs. 5)
5.  His supremacy and sovereignty (vs. 8)
6.  His daily, fresh anointing of His Spirit upon my life (vs. 10)
7.  His causing me to flourish, even into old age (vs. 12-15)
8.  His trustworthiness and holiness (vs. 15)

When we express our thankfulness to God, it makes us more prone to thank others who God uses to bless us.  This brings me back around to the Facebook video.  It's the first link in the Sources: section below.  Go watch it, and then thank both the LORD and another human being today.  Show God's love by saying a simple "thanks".  It will bless!

Father, please forgive me for my lack of thankfulness.  I recognize that when I am dwelling in unthankfulness I am much more prone to depression and sloth and other types of sinful attitudes. Thank you for the "anonymous" writer of Psalm 92, whom You inspired to write this wonderful psalm of thanksgiving.  Your words, O LORD, are spirit and they are life!  In Jesus' name, amen.


Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Panning for Gold

As I sit here and write these words, I can hear an owl whoo-whoo-whoo'ing behind me, in the woods. What a fit accompaniment for today's meditation, as the owl has long been a symbol in the Western world, of wisdom.

"Good friend, take to heart what I'm telling you;
collect my counsels and guard them with your life.
Tune your ears to the world of Wisdom;
set your heart on a life of Understanding.
That's right - - - if you make Insight your priority,
and won't take 'no' for an answer,
Searching for it like a prospector panning for gold,
like an adventurer on a treasure hunt,
Believe me, before you know it Fear-of-God will be yours;
you'll have come upon the Knowledge of God.
And here's why:  God gives out Wisdom free,
is plainspoken in Knowledge and Understanding.
Proverbs 2:1-6 (The Message)

These words are for people of any age, believers and non-believers.

To the non-believer, this passage says that God wants to be found and that He will let Himself be found by the one who earnestly seeks Him.  This is the only path to true wisdom.  And, how has God revealed Himself to modern man?  Through His written word, the Bible.

Much of Proverbs, including this passage, was written by a parent to his child.  None of us sucks our faith out of a baby bottle.  Each of us must seek God and find Him for ourselves.  Oh!  How I wish it were not so.  That pesky "free will"! As a parent, I long to be able to bequeath my faith, my spiritual wealth, to my children as I'll bequeath my earthly, material assets.  But, God has not ordained it to be so.  Each of us must call out to Him for salvation on our own.  If you are an unbeliever, I encourage you to do that today!

So many of my contemporaries, even those who have led godly and upright lives before their children, agonize over their offsprings' wayward ways.  It is pure heartbreak to watch one you love so much wander away from God and follow after those who have influenced them to reject Him. While there is breath, there is life; while there is life, there is hope. ("Dum spiro spero" - Latin)  If this situation describes your family, earnestly cry out to God for His wisdom and favor, for both your children and yourself!

But, this passage is applicable to older folks as well.  Often, older folks are looked to for wisdom. Sometimes they have it; sometimes they don't.  The Bible makes it plain in the Proverbs that wisdom comes from God and nowhere else.  This is why any Knowledge that does not jive with God's written word must be rejected.  If an older person has walked with God and continues to do so, then he or she can be a reliable advisor.  That is what I long to be as I continue through my latter years.

"White hair is a crown of glory, if it is found in the way of righteousness."
Proverbs 16:31
(Jubilee Bible 2000)

Many retirees, like myself, find themselves wondering if God is finished with them.  For many, it is a massive adjustment, heading into the sunset of life.  I've known some who view this time of life with a huge sense of entitlement.  Because of this belief that they've "earned the right" they feel that they can just set their faith on the shelf and stop serving God, adopting instead extreme self-centeredness. Or, they believe they have some special dispensation to be brash, harsh and hurtful with others.  We see this in "the world" a lot, though unfortunately some older saints have adopted this attitude too. This is not loving behavior, nor does it help bring anyone closer to our Savior.

"Who is wise and has understanding among you?  
He should show his works by good conduct with wisdom's gentleness."
James 3:13 
(Holman Christian Standard version)

Ministries that any believer of any age can have, whether young or old, whether infirm or healthy, are these:

  • prayer, 
  • the seeking of wisdom and 
  • the dispensing of it with love.  

What good is wisdom if it is not shared in love?  Oh, this verse, Proverbs 12:18 (ESV) - - - 

"There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing."

Whoa.... we want to be in the latter category, do we not?  Let's "set our hearts on a life of Understanding" and a ministry of loving others, no matter our age, wherever God calls us!  Let's seek Him and serve Him, to the end of our days!

Blessed, Holy One!  You are unfathomable!  Yet, you allow Yourself to be known in the limited ways we can comprehend.  Thank you for giving to all who ask, Your wisdom.  May we seek it, not only for our own benefit, but so that we may bless others.  May we share it with love and humility, not out of a desire to control or out of arrogance.  In this way, we can reflect our Savior and walk ... ...resplendent!  In Jesus' name, amen.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Grafted In

I hope you all had a great Christmas.  These days between now and New Years are some of my very favorite.  Not exactly "downtime", they are nonetheless much less hectic than my usual pace.  Ahhhh!
So, the picture above is of a branch of an olive tree.  Why I chose this photo will become clear later on.

Ezra 8 is today's central text.  It begins by listing the names of the families who left Babylon with Ezra in this wave of dispersed exiles, to return to Jerusalem.  To Ezra's surprise, he found no Levites among the group. So, he sent a group of trusted men to a place called Casiphia, where some Levites were living.  It was important to take Levites (a branch of the Jewish "family"), because they were the only ones specified by God to be the ministers in the temple.

I've had a bit of confusion about the difference between priests and Levites; so, I looked it up.  In short, all priests were from the tribe of Levi (thus being Levites).  However, not all from the tribe of Levi were priests.  Levitical priests were charged with the most "holy" tasks of the Temple. They were allowed to handle sacred objects and perform sacred rituals.  Other Levites served in the Temple, doing non-priestly duties, assisting the priests.  They were still highly esteemed because of their service in the temple, but not as highly esteemed as priests.

After gathering together from Casiphia (which no one seems to know the exact location of) 38 Levites and 220 temple-helpers (adopted Levites, you might say).  This latter group was called the Nethinims, a group I'd never heard of.  So, I did a little digging around.

The name "nithinim" is a derivative of the verb "nathan", which means to "set apart" or "consecrate". It is believed that these people were descendants of slave people, captured as the Jews conquered the promised land.  See Numbers 31:47.   We find in Ezra 8:20 that, during David's reign, he had commissioned a number of these foreign people to assist the Levitical priests in the service of the temple.  Since Ezra could only come up with 38 "true Levites by birth" for the priesthood, his advisors also invited along 220 from the group with the general title of Nithinim.  Ezra was perpetuating the example set by David.

Bible scholars agree that King David was a picture (a "type") of the coming Messiah.  I've mentioned before in this blog how it is recorded in the New Testament that David was "a man after God's own heart".  It is interesting to me how these pagan slaves were more or less "adopted" in to the Levitical class and "grafted in" to serve in the temple.  When we find them in Ezra 8, there is no indication that they are now slaves, but rather, treated as family members.

All this is a picture of the gentiles in the Church of Jesus Christ.  The Nithinim are a foreshadowing of the gentile peoples who were invited in to the early Church.  You may recall that it was a rocky road to get the Jewish believers of the early Church to accept that God wanted to include gentiles (non-Jews). This was a radical change.  But, God, in His mercy and holiness, made a way of salvation for ALL people through the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus.

Paul explains this in Romans 9:33 - - -

"They are Israelites, and to them belong the glory, the adoption, the covenants, the giving of the Law, the worship and the promises.  To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen."

But, he goes on to talk about grafting in of gentiles in Romans 11:16-24.  He refers to the whole Church as an olive tree, and to the gentile members as "wild olive branches" who were grafted in.
In Romans 1:16, Paul affirms that the gospel of Jesus Christ has been made available "to the Jew first, and also to the Greek" (the Greeks being a prominent group of gentile people).

Peter affirms this in his first book, 1 Peter 2:10 - -
"Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy."

There is a passage I love - - John 15.  Here, Jesus is talking about His Church, with Himself being the "true vine" (or you might say, the tree trunk) and we are the "branches".

I'm a wild olive branch, how about you?  As someone with gentile blood, I am so glad that Jesus' redeeming sacrifice was not only for the Jews. Hallelujah!

Father, thank you for extending your offer of salvation and peace to all people.  As a "Greek", I am so grateful!  And, I thank you for this picture you paint in the book of Ezra to show that your mercy has been abundant from generation to generation, as evidenced not only here in Ezra 8 but also in the example of Ruth, Rahab and others.  When we come to you for salvation, we leave our pedigrees at the door, because we all come to you on an even footing - - - dirty sinners, in need of washing in Jesus' blood.  We praise you today for your marvelous foreknowledge, mercy and grace!  In Jesus' name, amen. 

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Light Sabers for Light Bearers

So here it is - - - the most blessed night of the entire year, Christmas Eve, the night that Christ -followers celebrate His birth.  After a lovely Christmas Eve service at our church and a good dinner, I had the privilege of going with the Hubster and the First Son to see "The Force Awakens".  Finally. All the fa-la-la-la-la of the season had prevented me from seeing it before now.  A strange juxtaposition, you think?  Not so much.

I remember back in the days of the first Star Wars movies (when I was a twenty-something) there was a twenty-something dude who went to church after seeing the first in the series.  During the welcome, you know, where you are to shake people's hands, he turned around to the folks seated behind him and quipped, "May the Force be with you."

Why has the Star Wars series been such a huge mega-hit?  Last I heard, in its opening weekend, this latest installment had taken in over $317 million!  There are several reasons, but I believe that there are two main ones.

1.  We identify with the characters who are trapped in the Dark Side.  The Bible tells us, and in our souls we know this to be true: we are, from the moment of our human conception, "wired" for sin.  It is part of our human DNA, since Adam's and Eve's escapades.  Although there are times we seem to break free, we quickly find ourselves like the fly in the spider's web, caught once again.
And, we desperately want out.  Oh...there are shenanigans, those strategies we are tricked into trying, in order to solve the problem ourselves.  "I did it my way!"  But, they are only temporary fixes.  They never take care of the sin problem, because they can't.

2.  We are fascinated by those who have "The Force" because we long to have it too.  We desperately want "the light" to overcome "the darkness", both in the story and in our own stories, our own lives. In the movies, sometimes the dark wins; other times the light wins.  Red saber vs. blue saber.  This mimics our lives; the ongoing cosmic battle resonates with the ongoing spiritual battle within us.  As I told a loved one the other day: those with the most potential for the light are always most severely opposed by the dark.  There is in each of us, however, the image of God in which we were created, that spark of the divine, by which we choose - - - either the light or the dark.

Jesus said that if we want "The Force", we can have it.  Well, sort of like that:

Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.”
John 8:12

Perhaps he was thinking of Isaiah 9:2, when He made this declaration.

The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them has the light shined.

When we hear the message of the gospel:
how God condescended to us,
how He from before Time began knew that He would put on flesh,
be conceived as a human inside a woman's womb,
go on to live the life of a Jewish man until He
allowed Himself to be crucified,
submitted to His own plan to redeem us by not only suffering the worst imaginable death, but
raised Himself from the dead...

All of earth's finest stories mimic His Story.  His is truly "the greatest story ever told".  Who but God could have spun a (true) tale like this one?

When we hear the gospel, we are faced with the choice: the light (Jesus) or the dark (the world, Satan).  It is the divine spark the "image of God" which the Holy Spirit kindles inside those who submit to Him, those who choose Him.

Upon our "YES", He performs that irreversible, transformative change in our souls.  He gives us a new birth.  He puts His Spirit in us, Light unparalleled, incomparable.
Then, we bear it.  We not only carry Him within us, we wield His light in the world, wherever we go.  It is "the light of life", the one and only, from The One and Only Savior.  There is none other.  All the rest are pretenders, deceivers, cheap imitators.

There is no life like the abundant life.  I was thinking about this precious gift of salvation earlier today - - - how it is the best of this earthly existence, how I would not trade it for anything.  It is the Gift of God, everlasting life, everlasting light.  He is the Gift, the Incomparable One.

So, stripping away all of the fancy paper, the carols, the celebrations, Santa, Christmas cookie swaps and deck-the-halls, it comes down to this:  God came down for you at Christmas.  Will you embrace and follow Him?

"Choose wisely, young padawan!" and "May the Force be with you!"

Heavenly Father, I am so grateful to be Yours.  I did not deserve to receive the greatest gift a human can be given, but You gave it anyway.  Thank you for reconciling me to Yourself and not only me but also anyone who will receive You.  This is unfathomable love.  This is Christmas.  All my praise and worship are Yours, Father, Son, Holy Spirit.  Amen.


Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens. Dir. J.J. Abrams, story by George Lucas. LucasFilm, December 18, 2015. Film. 

Wednesday, December 23, 2015


18Now the birth of Jesus Christ happened this way. While his mother Mary was engaged to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. 19Because Joseph, her husband to be, was a righteous man, and because he did not want to disgrace her, he intended to divorce her privately. 20When he had contemplated 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 as your wife, because the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21She will give birth to a son and you will name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” 22This all happened so that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet would be fulfilled: 23Look! The virgin will conceive and bear a son, and they will call him Emmanuel,” which means “God with us.” 24When Joseph awoke from sleep he did what the angel of the Lord told him. He took his wife, 25but did not have marital relations with her until she gave birth to a son, whom he named Jesus.
Matthew 1:18-25 (NET)

Do you remember when you found out you were going to be a parent?  I remember that pregnancy test home kit, and seeing the blue check mark.  But, most of all, I remember my husband's reaction. Basically, he was so overwhelmed with emotion at the prospect he was "zombie-fied" for about 3 days.  I imagine that is how Joseph must have felt:  a carpenter who dreamed of the birth of God.1

Today, Christians talk about Jesus' return, and we say we believe this to be a certainty.  I'm sure that the Jews of Mary and Joseph's day felt the same about the coming of Messiah.  But, I'm equally sure they felt that "someone else" would be chosen to be His earthly parents.  What a shock this must have been!

The mystery of the Incarnation.  I can't wrap my mind around it.  A friend of mine wrote a Christmas song in which she tried to express the unfathomable fact that Mary gave birth to the One who had created her, who had known her before her own birth.  "We Have Met Before" :

"Newborn Son, yet Ancient of All Days"...

God the Father gives to us God the Son.  This is the essence of Christmas:  God gives us the only path to soul salvation, His very own Beloved One, His Only Begotten.

Do you have a favorite Christmas tree ornament?  I do.  It is the subject of the picture at the top of today's post.  It is not a particularly beautiful ornament, in the aesthetic sense.  In fact, it looks out-of-place, nestled in the "front and center" of our tree.  But, it is there to remind me that Christmas was only the beginning of Jesus's earthly ministry. If He had only been born and then had lived a life marked by sinful choices, or if He had refused to fulfill His purpose here, there would be no spike ornament on my tree, nor would there be any reason for a Christmas celebration at all.

God With Us...Immanuel.  You can't take the Babe without the Broken and Suffering.  You can't worship the Newborn without embracing the Triumphant King.  There is no worship of Jesus apart from embracing His finished work on the cross and His earth-shattering emergence from the borrowed tomb.  He loved us ... to death, and back again.

Even after He returned to Heaven, to sit at the right hand of our Father God, He did not leave us comfortless.  Through His Holy Spirit, God is still with us, with those of us who have believed and confessed, "I am His and He is mine."

As he lay dying, the renowned 18th c. Methodist evangelist John Wesley is said to have uttered these words:  "The best of all is, God is with us."

Amen and amen.

Thanks be to God, for His indescribable Gift!  2 Corinthians 9:15


Voskamp, Ann. The Greatest Gift: Unwrapping the Full Love Story of Christmas

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Who's This For?

I don't know about you, but I'm still trying to get ready.  Those people who get their Christmas shopping done early are a mystery to me.  At any rate, last night, after mailing over 200 Christmas cards and wrapping gifts the rest of the day, I made list of what is remaining.  And what day is this? 12/22?  Okaaaaayyy...

Reflecting this morning, I thought about that moment when one of the younger family members is dispersing the gifts.  Every now and then, there's a gift with no tag, or the kid can't read it, or whatever and the question is asked, "Who's This For?"

All this frantic preparation, all this running around....who's this for?  Most seasons I feel like an unwilling character in a dramatic play, caught up in the tsunami we call The Christmas Season.  Most of the time, I am exhausted, perplexed and uninspired.  It all feels like drudgery.  The Most Wonderful Time of the Year?   Or, is it the most frantic time of the year, finishing up the year in a cataclysm of performancism?  (Add a strategic extra "i" in there, and you find "manic" imbedded in that word - - just sayin'...)

And who's it for?  Well, if I'm honest, it's often an offering to the idol of my pride.  It's to "keep up appearances", under the pretense of "giving because God gave His Son to us".  Doesn't that sound all churchy and spiritual?

Sometimes I think that all of our holiday "striving" is to try to replicate the grandeur which cannot be exceeded - - - the mystery of The Immaculate Conception, or the beauty of that "Silent Night": the glory of the angels cracking open the heavens, the wonder of the stable delivery room in which was heard God's first cry.  It's a futile effort because that beauty and glory and majesty can only be produced by the one, true God, making the miracle called Christmas.

That's why I chose to focus each morning of Advent on Him (even though it did not happen every day or always in the morning), to reflect on The Gift, the reason for all of this falderal, for all of this fa-la-la-la-la.  Otherwise, what's the point?  The Season is already crazy enough.  There's got to be some quiet candlelight, some peace somewhere.  And, the only place to find that meaning, that peace, that grace is in His presence, which is the essence of Christmas.  God came down in the form of a baby, to dwell among men.  We bow our hearts at His manger, in awe-full worship.

Ann Voskamp talks about how Mary became a willing dwelling place for God, not by force, but by her assent.  "Let this happen to me according to your word," she replied to the angel, Gabriel (Luke 1:38).  Similarly, my prayer is this:  "Let me be overshadowed by the Holy Spirit, to take hold of His grace, birthed anew in me this season."  When we re-frame our "holiday attitudes", we can truly be ready for Christmas because His grace is sufficient for every situation, seasonal or not. When we open our hearts to receive Him, we are filled with His Spirit, overcome by His grace, a grace like no other, the only grace which brings peace.

There was no room in the inn for the little family  - - - Mary, Joseph and the soon-to-be born Son.  Is there room in my heart this Christmas season for Him?

Thou didst leave Thy throne and Thy kingly crown,
When Thou camest to earth for me;
But in Bethlehem's hone was there found no room
For Thy holy nativity.
O come to my heart, Lord Jesus,
There is room in my heart for Thee.
         Emily E. Elliott, 1864.

Here is a beautiful rendition:

Dear Holy Father,  please don't let us miss this!  Let there be room in our hearts for the simple, yet glorious.  Please don't let this precious time pass by without our bowing our hearts in worship before The Child.  Oh, come to our hearts, Lord Jesus.  We are making room.  Let our hearts be Your sanctuary.  Only in this way, can we truly celebrate Your birth, can we truly worship.  In Jesus' name, amen.


Voskamp, Ann. The Greatest Gift: Unwrapping the Full Love Story of Christmas

Monday, December 21, 2015

Minor and Unlikely

One of the many, great paradoxes of the Bible is that the only wise God, the omnipotent, omniscient God is also the God of the Minor.

Don't you just love it when we tell each other our stories?  I love to listen for God working in them. Just last week a friend had open-heart surgery.  Afterwards, there was a scary time when it was feared he had had a stroke.  God chose to answer the prayers of many of His children on this friend's behalf, and now he is almost "back to his old self".  We are praising Him for that.

I am so glad that He is concerned with, what on the world scale, must be considered "minor incidents" or "the little people".  I am so glad that He chooses "minor characters" to become the heroes in history ("His Story").  If He can choose and use Zechariah and Elizabeth, He can use anyone.  Their story is found in Luke 1:6-17.

Zechariah and Elizabeth, both of the Levitical tribe, that is, both descendants of Aaron, were (beyond that) just an ordinary, old couple.  Most folks paid them little attention, I'd guess.  In a society where most things centered on the large, extended family, this old couple had none.  This is because, while they should have been at least grandparents and perhaps great-grandparents, they had no offspring, no descendants.  They were pretty much alone.  To their credit, we read in verse 6 that, despite what had to be this deep disappointment, they continued to honor God with their lives.  Two ordinary, old people whom God chose to play a leading role in mankind's redemption story, not in their timeframe, but in His.

At the beginning of the A.D. era there were approximately 7000 Levitical priests serving at the Jerusalem temple.  These were laymen, who only served there two weeks out of the year.  One of Zechariah's "weeks" fell during the feast of Yom Kippur, during the year in which this story is set. Of the hundreds of priests serving that week, Zechariah's name was drawn "at random" to go into the most holy place of the Temple ("the Holy of Holies") and make an incense offering.  This was a very rare honor.  Most priests like Zechariah would live all of their lives without having their name drawn. You might say he "won the lottery".  Then, if that were not miraculous or unlikely enough, he sees an angel, who delivers to him a miraculous message.

It is very significant that there had been no "word" from God since the book of Malachi was written, 400 years earlier.  There had been no recorded angelic appearances, no prophets. Don't be fooled, though.  God was not idle, even if He was "silent".  I am sure that many had decided that Jehovah's dealings with the Jews were "ancient history" and irrelevant to "modern people".  Not Zechariah or Elizabeth, however.  Their faith had not wavered.  What an inspiration they are!

Even so, when Zechariah saw the angel Gabriel and heard his message, his faith wavered.  Who can blame him?  Certainly not me!  (Most likely I would have pulled a "Sarah", and laughed.)  At any rate, Zechariah (whose name means "God Remembers") and his wife Elizabeth (whose name means "My God Keeps His Word") conceived and birthed that promised son.  And, Zechariah, who had been struck mute in the most holy place, found his tongue freed to praise the King of Kings and Lord of Lords when asked about the name of his newborn boy.  John - - - an unusual, one-of-a-kind name - - for an unusual, chosen boy.  This boy was filled with God's spirit while still in his mother's womb, causing him to leap for joy there when he heard the voice of His Savior's mother for the first time. God is sovereign, faithful and good.

In today's picture the old woman's hand holds the hand of her toddler son.  There are no "unlikelies" with my God.  Nothing is minor to Him.  You may be praying, as I am, for a Christmas miracle this season.  Keep praying.  God is listening.  He bends down to hear the whispered prayer of the broken, the anguished, the weary.  Keep praying.  He longs to give us not only our needs, but the desires of our hearts.

Oh Lord, Seer of All Hearts, You know our needs.  And, You know our deepest desires.  Your grace begins with giving us more of You, and Your blessings flow from that priceless gift.  None of us, none of our needs are either minor or unlikely.  Thank you for meeting them in the most unlikely of ways.  I love You, Lord, and praise You for Your goodness.  In Jesus' name, amen.  


Voskamp, Ann. The Greatest Gift: Unwrapping the Full Love Story of Christmas

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Easy Days

Today is one of those beautiful, joyful days.  Sometimes it seems as if the days slog by, or that they fly by (when you need more hours in the day).  But, today is not one of those days.  This day is a wedding day, in my family.  My niece is marrying the nephew of one of my dearest childhood friends.  This family that has always seemed like "family" now truly will be, in the most legal sense of the word, family.  Hallelujah!

The mother of the bride, my sister, the mother of the groom, and I have been running around this morning, attending to last-minute details.  There are always some last-minute "water into wine" miracles needed!  Here and there, between blogging, I've gotten to be that bringer of miracles ... while holding joyful tears at bay.  So, my blog formatting looks crazy, because I am cray-cray today. That.Is.All.

The text that Ann Voskamp is featuring today, in my ongoing tracking here in the blog with her Advent series, is Habakkuk 3:17-19.

When the fig tree does not bud,

and there are no grapes on the vines;
when the olive trees do not produce,
and the fields yield no crops;
when the sheep disappear from the pen,
and there are no cattle in the stalls,
I will rejoice because of the Lord;
I will be happy because of the God who delivers me!
The sovereign Lord is my source of strength.
He gives me the agility of a deer.

This text speaks of rejoicing always, even under the direst of life's circumstances, letting the Holy Spirit fill you up to praise Him, no matter what.  Its parallel in the New Testament is 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18.

Always rejoice, constantly pray, in everything give thanks.  For this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.

Today, it's an easy task.  Praise the Lord, for He is GOOD!

Below is a wedding blessing, written by my friend, Susan Browning Schultz.  I thank her for the permission to use it to bless my niece and her soon-to-be husband today.

Seven Helpings of Marriage Wisdom
1.God always encourages us to be the person you would like to be married to. If you need more understanding; give more love and understanding to your spouse. “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interest of others.” Philippians 2:3-4
2.Nobody is perfect. Don’t let the world find out about your spouse’s imperfections via you. “The heart of her husband trusts in her.” Proverbs 31:11
3.Make it a point to give your spouse the best of you: the best of your touch, the best of your good attitude, the best laughter, and the best words. Don’t always bring them what’s left over after the world has drained you. “ . . . But set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.” 1 Timothy 4:12
4.Be intentional. Each day look for ways to bless your spouse. “Outdo one another in showing honor.” Romans 12:10
5.Believe the best about your spouse, even when they don’t communicate well and don’t keep a record of all of their mistakes. “Love always protects, always trusts, and always perseveres.” 1 Corinthians 13
6.Greet your spouse with a kiss. Positive touch releases endorphins so you associate your spouse with pleasant feelings. “Kiss me and kiss me again.” Song of Songs 1:2

7.This one is for later: Life affects us all. No one remains the same. We change physically; act less romantic, and so forth. Take time to find the two people who fell in love and reconnect. “Rejoice in the wife of your youth.” Proverbs 5:18

I hope each of you can praise matter what.

Dear God, thank you for those halcyon days when it is so very easy to praise You!  We need them, Lord, to carry us through the rough days, when praising You is a more costly act of worship.  Thank you for the joy that a wedding brings, that you have given my niece a godly man to be her husband.  I pray your richest blessings on them and on the generations following.  (Deuteronomy 5:10).  In Jesus' name, amen.


Voskamp, Ann. The Greatest Gift: Unwrapping the Full Love Story of Christmas

Friday, December 18, 2015

Rich, Pretty People

...who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?”
15Then Esther sent this reply to Mordecai: 16“Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my attendants will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.”
Esther 4:14b-16 (NIV)

Last night, I was sitting by a dear friend at a wonderful concert.  She looked at one of the performers and said, "I'd like to hear her story."  Here this woman was, beautiful!  Talented!  She was one of the "pretty people".  

Let me put it to you straight this morning.  There are no pretty people.  Just like we put concealer on our facial blemishes or hair weaves over our thinning hair, much of our energy in "first world countries" goes to concealing our imperfections and hiding our pain.  We may look like movie stars or live like the saintliest of saints.  Don't ever look at another and think, "He has it all together." Even if he or she is a Christian, there is always some measure of conflict or pain. 

The Bible makes it clear that, even Jesus struggled with the burden of living the life of a human being.  In the Garden of Eden, His agony was so great that He sweat drops of blood!  Besides Him (as if we needed more examples), there is not one biblical figure I can think of who comes off as "Mr. or Ms. All That".  All are flawed.  All have challenges.  Most make terrible decisions at some point.

This is why it is so important for the Body of Christ to live radically, love radically, as The Body of Christ.  So that, from our "royal position", we can serve our fellow man and tell him the good news, the gospel of Jesus Christ. Because although all flounder, flop and sometimes fail, there IS a difference between living this earthly life with Jesus Christ or without Him.  Regardless of the obvious issue of going to Heaven or Hell after physical death, there is the issue of the abundant life.

What does it mean to be rich?  It has nothing to do with money.  It has everything to do with abundance, with peace.  It is a wealth only found in the everlasting riches of Jesus Christ, that Prince of Peace, born a lowly Babe in a manger.  It is finding all our needs met by being accepted, forgiven and set free.  This past week, a well-known figure in my home county took his own life.  By all outward appearances, by all worldly standards he was successful and happy; he was "rich". Heartbreakingly, his pain was so great that he saw no other release from it than to remove his soul from this mortal world, in the most violent way.  Such tremendous suffering!

Oh people of God!  Treat every, single person as a bleeding soul.  Even the people of God are often "walking wounded", as opposed to the unsaved, who are the true "walking dead".  We, God's very own beloved, MUST be the bridge between the dying and the King - - whether our brothers or sisters in Christ or those who are still "on the outside of the gates to the kingdom".

In the past I have bought clothes for my sons - - - beautiful, expensive, trendy clothes!  And, I have taken them to a charity with the tags still attached.  They would not wear them.  Beautiful gifts, wasted.  How similar our Savior must feel, to see us wasting our gifts - - hoarding our physical and especially spiritual wealth - - when all around us are suffering people? 

"The poor in spirit are blessed, for the kingdom of Heaven is theirs."  
Matthew 5:3 (HCSB)

 Most of the time, being attuned to the needs of others (I started to say "the needy", but we are ALL "the needy") does not call for us to lay down our lives, at least not in the physical sense, as was the case with Mordecai and Esther.  Some have often wondered if they would be willing to make a similarly extreme sacrifice for someone else, what they would do in a "If I perish, I perish" moment.  I have the answer for you:  if you are tight-fisted in the small things, you will most likely be hard-hearted and selfish in the bigger things. If giving yourself away, being others-focused, is not the way you "roll" on a regular basis, your heart will be so hard when confronted with a major sacrifice that its muscle will not be able to respond as Jesus would.  

And, how DID He respond?  By laying down His very life, after living a life of magnanimous giving to others.  May we, His own, do the same.  Because, "for such a time as this..."

Father, open our eyes to the needs of those around us.  May we not stop with the seeing, but move on to the giving of our riches in Your Son, our Savior.  In this way, Lord, we celebrate Christmas, all year long, all our lives long.  In Jesus' name, amen.


Voskamp, Ann. The Greatest Gift: Unwrapping the Full Love Story of Christmas