One long night…

Nearby shepherds were living in the fields, guarding their sheep at night. The Lord’s angel stood before them, the Lord’s glory shone around them, and they were terrified. The angel said, “Don’t be afraid! Look! I bring good news to you—wonderful, joyous news for all people. Your savior is born today in David’s city. He is Christ the Lord. This is a sign for you: you will find a newborn baby wrapped snugly and lying in a manger. ” Suddenly a great assembly of the heavenly forces was with the angel praising God. They said, “Glory to God in heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors.”

When the angels returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go right now to Bethlehem and see what’s happened. Let’s confirm what the Lord has revealed to us. ” They went quickly and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. When they saw this, they reported what they had been told about this child. Everyone who heard it was amazed at what the shepherds told them. Mary committed these things to memory and considered them carefully. The shepherds returned home, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. Everything happened just as they had been told. ~Luke 2:8-20 (CEB)

Christmas is supposed to be a time of joy. Isn’t it? TV shows and commercials illustrate Christmas time as the … “most wonderful time of the year…” So if Christmas makes you blue… (now I have Evis singing in my head) or even flat out depressed it can be isolating in the sea of celebrations. It can leave some people gloomy finding the holidays anything but jolly, while still others will have experiences that make it difficult to be merry and bright.

When I think of the Advent story it seems to me to start out in the dark and cold, even in the midst of hopelessness. But it is also part of a bigger story of God’s grace waiting our discovery. It is a story of hope.

Sometimes the hype and clichés of the season distract us. The clever marketing ploys succeed in making us desire tangible things we can hold in our hands. Marketing gives us false illusions of how we can find happiness. However all the marketing efforts, hype and catchy logos cannot answer the deep questions of the heart, or address the pain that might reside there, explain the mystery of God’s presence, or even comprehend the meaning of our existence. It also does not help us to understand why bad things happen.

Advent can give us hope though in the midst of our isolation and false illusions because it tells us a story of how God humbled himself, intimately and personally through the birth of Jesus. Sometimes we blow off Advent as just another blip on the church calendar but it is meant to be something more. It is meant to lay a new path of faith for the new year ahead.

In the remembering and retelling of the magical story we are reminded that God loved us so much he allowed Jesus to come down here in the form of a fragile infant to be born in the lowliest of places. The retelling of the story is to remind me why Jesus came into the world in the first place, so that I might have life and live in the light.  I am reminded with the Advent story that God is a hands-on God willing to become vulnerable just so that I might catch a glimpse of how much He loves me. This story tells me that Jesus loved me so much that he came down to earth to be in the darkness with me and to walk with me as I search for the light.

Advent is meant to confront me once again with God’s unparalleled effort to communicate the message that I am embraced and held by a God of love. The Advent season is the time that I can shake off the failures, the victories and the sorrows of the past. I am given a new clean page. Again and again we see in the Bible that God is a God of second chances and the healer of broken hearts. Jesus Christ has come, is present with us, and will come again in final victory when all darkness, pain and evil will be no more.

Heavenly Father, it gives me great comfort to know that You are big enough to handle all my sorrow, all my questions and all my fear. I am thankful that You are a God who is willing to come down to earth and be with me where I am, even if the place You find me is darkness. Even in the darkness I am not hidden from You. I may be worried that I will put others off during this “happy season” with the questions and fears that are hidden in my heart, but I know that You will never turn from my sorrow. You will never brush off my questions. You will never be upset with me if I have the “wrong feelings” for the season. You simply tell me that feelings just are.  Dear Lord, I thank You for sitting with me here right now, waiting with me through this long night, reminding me that there is always a dawn. Amen.

Truly to trust

I know the plans I have in mind for you, declares the LORD; they are plans for peace, not disaster, to give you a future filled with hope. When you call me and come and pray to me, I will listen to you. When you search for me, yes, search for me with all your heart, you will find me. ~Jer 29:11-12

I have a dark secret. I worry about my children. Sometimes it is that deep dark crippling kind of worry where I find that the air has stopped flowing through my lungs. God has recently confronted me about these fears I have for my children.

I have embraced God’s promises and I know that He will take care of me and provide for me. I know deep in my heart that there is nothing that can separate me from God’s love and that He will take care of me. But do I have enough faith in God to think the same things for my children? Apparently not. I so worry about the hurts my children have sustained. I worry over the choices that they make. I can see the long term effects cut deep into them and how it could follow them through life.

God asked me one day. Do you not think that my promises are for your children too? Do you not think that I can use all of these things, their hurts and choices for their future? Do you not believe that I can use all these things for their good?

Despite the choices that my children make, despite the hurts they incur, God is holding them in His hands just like he has me in His hands. God has used all my pain and suffering and turned it into glory for Him. He will do the same for my children. That doesn’t absolve me of training them in the way they are to go but it does release me of the control and give control to God.

Heavenly Father, again I turn my children over to you. Protect their hearts, lead them in the way they are to go. I know that You will use all things to their ultimate good. I know that it will all be for Your glory. I trust that You love my children even more than I do. Amen.

 

By faith

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was going to receive as an inheritance. He went out without knowing where he was going. By faith he lived in the land he had been promised as a stranger. He lived in tents along with Isaac and Jacob, who were coheirs of the same promise. He was looking forward to a city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. By faith even Sarah received the ability to have a child, though she herself was barren and past the age for having children, because she believed that the one who promised was faithful. So descendants were born from one man (and he was as good as dead). They were as many as the number of the stars in the sky and as countless as the grains of sand on the seashore. ~Hebrews 8:8-12 (CEB)

It is hard for me to relate this passage. I don’t have the long family history, those stories that tell me who I am. It is hard for me to understand what it was like for Abraham to leave all he had known, to leave his family behind and step out on faith.

I have a confession to make. I never ever thought twice about leaving all I had known or my family to move 6 hours away after I finished college. I didn’t consult with God whether I should go or should stay. I just went. I wasn’t thinking of my future much less of children and grandchildren when we packed up the moving van and headed to east Tennessee.

Now that I have lived away from immediate family and half raised my family with only my husband to help out, my view of family has begun to change. The examples laid out for me had been get married and move off. That is what my parents had done and their parents before them. The whole idea of living in an area surrounded by extended family is completely foreign to me. But as I have gained friends who have that family history, stories and support, I have begun to understand just what it might have meant to leave all I had known behind.

In Abraham’s time, it appears that he was a well established “city dweller” living in his family estate. Here was his inheritance. Here was his history. Here was his support. God called to Abraham, asking him to give up the security he had. God wanted him to have something more. This was a new concept to look to your Heavenly Father for your inheritance. When the Jews heard this story, they knew what sacrifice Abraham was making, what dreams he might be giving up. They understood the risks that Abraham was taking to head out from an established home into the wilderness to roam. Abraham believed God when he said that he had something more in mind for him than Abraham had for himself.

I am at a point in my life where I feel that God is asking me to let go of what I have banked my securities in. He has something more in mind for me than the little niche I have carved out for myself. Can I have the faith of Abraham? Can I blindly go where He calls me to go? Can I believe enough in a promise to find something more than I hold in my hands now? Abraham did.

Heavenly Father, give me the strength to stand up when You call. Guide my steps so they go with a purpose. Keep me from wandering too far from Your promises. I believe the scriptures when they say You have my good in mind. I claim this day all the promises You have for me. Amen.

God’s hiddenesss

“Today also my complaint is bitter; his hand is heavy despite my groaning. Oh, that I knew where I might find him, that I might come even to his dwelling! I would lay my case before him, and fill my mouth with arguments. I would learn what he would answer me, and understand what he would say to me. Would he contend with me in the greatness of his power? No; but he would give heed to me. There an upright person could reason with him, and I should be acquitted forever by my judge. “If I go forward, he is not there; or backward, I cannot perceive him; on the left he hides, and I cannot behold him; I turn to the right, but I cannot see him.” ~Job 23:2-9 (NRSV)

Sometimes in the midst of my troubles I feel so alone.  I even feel abandoned by God.  Here is an example in the Bible of a righteous man who also felt abandoned by all and God seemed to be so far away.

Life can get really ugly sometimes. We don’t have to live it perfectly. We just have to make it through each day until we get to the other side of bad times. We can’t get to the other side without living through it. The Israelites are an example of this. To make it to the Promised Land they had to go through the desert. They didn’t do it perfectly. They even still had some kinks that needed to be worked out when they got to the new land. But God guided them through the desert and they eventually got there.

When it seems that God isn’t answering my prayers I have to remember that He is faithful. There are things that He is doing that I cannot see. All I am required to do is to live through each day, letting Him guide my steps. I don’t have to see where I am going. I just have to go.

 Guide my steps this day Lord, blind as I may be to the work you are doing. Strengthen my trust in You that all things will work out in the end for my good. I know that the only way to get through this desert is to just walk on through. Steady my steps when they falter, strengthen my heart when it is faint, give me faith when it seems all hope is lost. Amen.

Walking on water

Right then, Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go ahead to the other side of the lake while he dismissed the crowds. When he sent them away, he went up onto a mountain by himself to pray. Evening came and he was alone. Meanwhile, the boat, fighting a strong headwind, was being battered by the waves and was already far away from land. Very early in the morning he came to his disciples, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified and said, “It’s a ghost!” They were so frightened they screamed. Just then Jesus spoke to them, “ Be encouraged! It’s me. Don’t be afraid.” Peter replied, “Lord, if it’s you, order me to come to you on the water.” And Jesus said, “ Come.” Then Peter got out of the boat and was walking on the water toward Jesus. But when Peter saw the strong wind, he became frightened. As he began to sink, he shouted, “Lord, rescue me!” Jesus immediately reached out and grabbed him, saying, “ You man of weak faith! Why did you begin to have doubts?” ~Mattew 14:22-31 (CEB)

It is interesting to remember that the disciples found themselves in that storm because they had obeyed Jesus and got into the boat in the first place. Obeying Jesus didn’t keep them out of the storm. In this case it caused them to be in the middle of one. But if Peter had never gotten into the boat, never had faith enough to step out of that boat and attempt to walk where no human had ever walked before, he would not have been in the place to find himself in the arms of Jesus. Being in the arms of Jesus isn’t such a bad consequence I am thinking.

In an attempt to help my son through a storm a few years ago, I asked him, “What was the worst thing that could happen to us if a tornado did hit our house?” His reply was that “We would die.” “Then where would we be?” I asked him. “Heaven”, he said.

Sometimes when I think of the worst case scenario, the worst case might actually be the best case. In the arms of Jesus is the best place to be. If my stepping out in faith brings me straight into his arms is that really a bad thing?

Heavenly Father, may I have enough faith today to step out into this storm called life. In obeying You may I find that it actually brings me closer to You. Amen.

When fear comes knocking

But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” ~ Matthew 14:27 (CEB)

Every season brings fresh reasons for fear. So each shift in my schedule, new venue I take on, new road I explore or change I go through is cause for my old enemy…  fear, to come knocking at my door.

Fear makes me doubt all that I know. It corrodes my confidence in God. Fear makes me second guess God and who I am in God. I catch spiritual amnesia forgetting what God has done for me and only seeing what He has done for others. Fear cripples and deafens my hearing until I can no longer hear God. Fear sucks the life out of my soul and dulls my faith.

Left unchecked fear will imprison my soul. Only prayer can release me. Jesus says, ““Do not fear. Only believe, and (you) will be saved.” (Luke 8:50) Only until fear is exposed can I be released from its hold on me. Faith counter acts fear and with faith I can hear Jesus say to me “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.” (Luke 8:48)

Lord, Help me remember today that just because Fear comes knocking at my door does not mean that I have to open up the door much less invite it in for coffee. Keep fresh in my mind all the blessings you have bestowed on me. I thank You for Your loving grace. Amen.

Anchored in love

When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. ~Matthew 10:19-20 (RSV)

When I am anxious about some upcoming event I have a tendency to over prepare. If I find myself needing to defend myself, I wonder how to respond.  Turmoil causes me to lose confidence and creates a debilitating self-conscious.

In Matthew 10 I find words from Jesus telling me to not worry about what I should say and to trust that when a moment arises that He will send the words and the wisdom that I will need. It is not the words I seek to express myself that are important but that I remain deeply anchored in Jesus’ love, secure about being a child of God and remembering that I am here for His ultimate plans. When my heart is connected to Jesus, I can be assured that I will have the words when I need to speak.

Anxiousness is a sign of distrust. If I can trust God to be there for me in all my moments, than I will not over prepare. Over preparing does not make the situation any better. Over preparing makes me rely on myself. When I rely on self it just tends to cause me to lose my confidence because I have taken my sights off God. What a good reminder that as long as I put God’s words in my heart I will find the wisdom I need when I need it. Security is never in self. Security is found through Jesus.

Heavenly Father, help me to keep my eyes on You as I go about the work that needs to be done today. May I find through Jesus the confidence I need to face this and every day. Amen.

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