Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Keep Moving Forward

Everyone is doing their "looking back" on 2008 today. And it makes sense. For many, my family included, this has been a year of many milestones, and not all of them were "happy" ones. (In case you don't live where I do, or haven't been watching even the national news, our last two weeks of 2008 have been entrenched with lots and lots of heavy snow--stop everything, put down your shovel, leave your chains in the trunk--heavy snow. In fact, I live less than 1/2 mile from the grocery store whose roof collapsed as reported on NBC news. We have put two days into shoveling out our roof with another day still ahead of us.)

But it is my deep belief that as Christians, we should not spend so much time looking back. We cannot go back and undo this year. We don't have that power. And I don't believe that is what God wants for us anyway.

(12)Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been
made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. (13)Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, (14)I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

--Philippians 3:12-14 NIV

So in light of today's date, I leave this as my farewell to 2008. I'm going to keep moving forward (I borrowed this from "Meet the Robinsons", a Disney movie with a fairly decent message), pressing onward toward the goal--a closer walk with Jesus, and preparation for the final days.

I wish you peace, hope, grace, and love in each of your lives as you enter into the new year. Know that I will be praying for each of you and your families. Only the Father in heaven knows what our futures hold, and praise God He wants the best for us!

Keep moving forward!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Whiter than Snow

Seasons Greetings

Here is the meditation of my heart this Christmas eve during a season marred by disappointment economically and weather impediments. Oh, and a few pictures of our joyful day!

7 Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
8 Let me hear joy and gladness;

let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
9 Hide your face from my sins

blot out all my iniquity.
10 Create in me a pure heart, O God,

and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me from your presence

or take your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation

and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
--Psalm 51:7-12 NIV

Elizababy wishes you a very Merry Christmas!

The view from our living room window
(note: the fence that is almost gone between the two yards is 4 feet tall!)

The view on the way to Vancouver, five days ago
May the love of the Father, the sacrifice and gift of Jesus Christ, and the remembrance in the Spirit bless you this holiday, and every day. Loving you each with the love of Christ, because how else could I?

Sunday, December 14, 2008

I'll be waiting

I'll be waiting
I may be young or old and gray
Counting the days
But I'll be waiting
And when I finally see your face
I'll run to meet you
(lyrics from "I'll Be Waiting/The Prodigal's Song by Amy Grant)

Last week at midweek service, Brother Timmy delivered a message that really spoke to me. Or, perhaps I should say that in the time I was in service with my heart and soul quieted, seeking for God's will and a bit of His wisdom, I heard some things that He spoke to me in that still small voice. (Brother Timmy, I apologize if it seemed I was distracted...your message was great...but I was hearing another voice too...I'm confident you'll understand and forgive me!)

In about twenty minutes, God placed some pretty powerful points upon my heart. In the middle of the hype and anticipation for Christmas, God showed me how this really does apply to my walk with Him, or how it should.

If you have children who can count, or at least who can make some approximation to counting, you know that children LOVE to countdown to big events. My daughter listed a countdown in her calendar a year ago that was over 180 days until she flew east to spend a couple of weeks with her grandmother. Each and every day, she checked off the date and knew she was getting close to something spectacular. She could not wait for the day to arrive when she would board the plane and fly 2000 miles to see her grandparents...alone.

We are currently in another countdown. Most of society is in a countdown, even if they do not align themselves with a religion. Everywhere we go right now there are signs telling us how many shopping days are left until Christmas.

In our home, we are counting down the days until our family will be altogether to celebrate Christmas (even though we will be doing this early this year). We've been known to count the days until payday. We've counted days until a vacation begins. We even counted down days until our baby arrived (which due to the unpredictable nature of babies was a little more challenging).

We count down to these events because they are exciting for us. We anticipate them happening because we know, or believe, that something wonderful is going to happen.

The Israelites were also given the opportunity to wait in anticipation for something wonderful. In Egypt, they waited for a deliverer while being bound as slaves.

When the deliverer came to them, they mocked him for his previous service under the Pharoah. He wasn't what they would have chosen for a deliverer. Moses wasn't their choice for the golden child. Yet God knew what He was doing. He set aside Moses to lead the people out of bondage and into the Promised Land.

The Israelites were given the opportunity to wait anxiously to go into the Promised Land. But the spies that they sent into Canaan decided to accept fear instead of a promise, and they wandered for 40 years. The original Israelites who were delivered from Egypt, all but one of them died before setting foot in the Promised Land.

The Israelites were repeatedly given opportunities to wait in anticipation, eager to see God bless them, deliver them, love them, take care of them. And they failed to see the blessing and wait with joy and excitement for what God was going to do for them.

In fact, they went so far as to miss the birth of the Messiah. The baby Jesus could not be the Messiah that was going to be sent to deliver the nation and restore Jerusalem. He was not an earthly king. He was a Nazarene, no less, and nothing good came from Nazareth. They missed the biggest blessing delivered to them although the signs were everywhere around them!

How do you miss the decree from a king to have all baby boys under the age of two murdered? Especially after the history in Egypt with the massacre of Israelite babies during the time of Moses, they should have known that this was a foreboding of something BIG. And what about a bright star that magically appeared in the sky? If this happened today, I could understand and suggest that maybe the lights from the city drowned out the light from the star. But these were times when there was no electricity, and the towns were much smaller. They studied the skies to determine the calendar for planting and reaping. They had no clocks. The sky was their clock and calendar. So how did they not question the appearance of a new bright star? And why were they not even more suspicious about this star when it aligned with the decree by Herod to have the babies killed?

And yet, for each reason I feel that they failed, I know that I am failing also.

In Matthew 24, Jesus speaks to his disciples. He tells them that there are going to be signs that may alarm them. He warns them that wars will break out, there will be famines and earthquakes. He tells them, He tells us, that these are the signs that the time is coming. He warns them about false prophets and a false Messiah. He tells them what to watch for, and to be ready.

And then at last, the sign of the coming of the Son of Man will appear
in the heavens, and there will be deep mourning among all the nations of the earth. And they will see the Son of Man arrive on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. --Matthew 24:30 NLT

Are we ready? We know that Jesus is seated in Heaven and He is
waiting to return to the earth. His Second Coming is going to be glorious.
will we be ready? Are we counting the days and getting ready? Or, will
we be
like the Israelites and reject the truth and the blessing because it
doesn't fit
our schedule or our idea of how it should happen?

Is there a sign upon my heart declaring "X days until Jesus arrives!" ???

Father, you have told us that Jesus came to earth to save the lost. And we know that He will make his return soon. The signs that He gave us tell us that time is rapidly approaching. And yet, I fear that I spend less time getting ready for the second coming and rapture than I do for Christmas or summer vacation. How can I be so misled? Illuminate the wrongness of my spirit and let me fix my eyes upon a mark that I cannot put into temporal terms, but which should hold my complete attention. Help me put my efforts into preparing my heart, my household, my community for your glorious reappearing--better than any Christmas gift I could ever buy or wrap. In Jesus' name, AMEN.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Away in a Manger

Away in a manger, no crib for a bed
The little Lord Jesus lay down his sweet head
The stars in the bright sky look down where He lay
The little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay

The cattle are lowing, the baby awakes
But little Lord Jesus, no crying He makes
I love thee, Lord Jesus, look down from the sky
And stay by my side until morning is nigh

You know, I really envy Mary. She must have felt somewhat like she had it made. I mean, it Martin Luther got it right and the human baby Jesus didn't awaken and cry at the commotion of the animals in the stable, she truly was most blessed among women!

I write this after letting my baby girl finally cry herself to sleep. I struggle sometimes with knowing whether or not I do the right thing with my children. I suppose that we all do. I know that my last baby (he's 7-1/2 now) was spoiled darn near rotten and I battle undoing that damage each day. But still, nurturing a child isn't wrong. It just can't be. Mind you, I don't hold her all the time. She is not delayed in her development because of being coddled (quite the opposite, her early milestones are the stuff of frantic prayers because at 7 months she's almost walking!). But when she has trouble going to sleep at night, and she cries and cries and cries, it breaks my heart. I want so badly to pick her up and just rock her until she goes to sleep, but I fear that by doing that I will create a situation where she simply won't sleep without me holding her.

(Who am I kidding, I think I have already created this situation!)

I wonder, if the belief of Biblical scholars is correct that Mary was only 14-16 years old when Gabriel visited her, how did she handle motherhood? It was her first baby. Did she know when to let him cry, and when to let him cry himself to sleep? Or, is Martin Luther correct that Jesus in his earthly baby form simply didn't cry?

At sixteen, Mary must have been something for God to choose her to mother and carry his child. I think my children are something special, but they are so common next to baby Jesus, the only begotten son. And yet, I know that Mary was just like me.

But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.--Luke 2:19 NIV

Being a mother has brought me much closer to understanding how Mary might have felt. And it has made the death of Jesus Christ even dearer to my heart as well. I don't know if Mary truly understood that her baby boy was going to be born for the purpose of becoming the paschal lamb. But I know that as I watch my children, as I've held these babies in my arms, I've tried to imagine what it would be like to raise them with that kind of knowledge. And the closest I could get was the simple knowledge that their bodies are mortal. We are finite. Perhaps if Mary knew that He was going to die such a brutal death she also knew that it could not hold him.

And there is such joy in knowing that although my children are mortal, their human lives are finite, they have the opportunity to accept Christ into their hearts and lives and have eternal life spiritually, if not physically.

Father, as a mother, I can't imagine what Mary may have felt watching Jesus be led to the hilltop where he was crucified. I wonder if, in that moment, she had flashbacks of his glorious entry into the world--praised by angels, announced by a spectacular star, sought by foreign kings, and feared by the rulers of nations and religion. Part of me wonders if by understanding Mary and her position as a mother, I can know you better. In this season of celebrations, of commercialism and greed, help me keep my life, my heart, and my eyes centered on you and on your gift for all humanity. In Jesus' name, AMEN.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Christmas as I know it

Now to you who believe, this stone [Jesus Christ] is precious. But to those who do not believe, “The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone, and, "A stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall." They stumble because they disobey the message-which is also what they were destined for.”--I Peter 2:7-8 NIV
(my emphasis added)

No matter where you live in the US, or even in the "Western World", you know that Christmas is approaching, regardless of whether you are someone who practices active religious faith. In many ways, Christmas has become a cultural holiday and is no longer much of a religious observance. It has been commercialized, and degraded by the desire of greed--children making long lists of toys they have no need for and that most of their families can't practically afford to get them and parents who go deeper and deeper into debt to provide a fraction of what is on that list.

If you follow my writings, you know that I have been struggling for weeks with the commercialism of this season. I am not sure which is worse--commercials almost non-stop from 7am until 9pm of toys, toys and more toys, or the onslaught of commercials depicting a man giving his "beloved" a large, expensive piece of jewelry. Both nauseate me.

And yet I am tied up somewhere in between detesting the commercialism of the holiday and loving it. Sounds ironic that I should at first complain and then be brazen enough to claim to embrace it? Not really. Most of what we do today, even if we are people of faith, to celebrate Christmas is little more than pagan ritual. The winter festivals of yonder year have come home to roost in the Christian home under the guise of "Christian symbolism". Our trees, evergreen, of course, derive from the European festivals of Yule, which sprouted long before the catholic church had reached beyond the Roman Empire. Yule was celebrated in late December into early January, to celebrate the shortest day of the year and the sun god.

And caroling...even caroling has its roots in pagan celebrations.

So, are we truly surprised that this holiday has become synonymous with secularism, pagan rituals, and consumer spending?


I don't know just yet. I have had many, many ideas. And I'm going to be perfectly honest, I am afraid of them. Well, not of the ideas, but I'm afraid of the resistance of my family and friends to them. I mean, who isn't going to think I need psychiatric help when I take down the tree and replace it with a crude manger with hay, flanked by a cross with a crown of thorns atop it?

And yet, it may just be that it requires something that drastic to get back, to move back to the real meaning of what we are "supposed" to be celebrating. And if we, as Christians, aren't willing to create a separate celebration, perhaps we should just call it the detested "X-mas" as we have already taken Christ and the mass/holy day out of it.

Just a thought.

Oh, and please keep grumpy comments to a minimum. This is really about me seeking the truth and sharing my journey more than it is an absolute truth or stand at this point. But my goal is to get back to a loving Father who sent Jesus as a tiny baby, knowing that He could never have the relationship He wanted with us without a Savior. And He was wise enough to know that we would reject an adult who just "showed up" one day to die for us. I mean, most of us rejected him as a baby...

Father, this continues to press upon my heart. I am less excited about Christmas this year and I think it's because you are telling me that we really are missing the point. Speak to me clearly, and guide me. Encourage and strengthen me so that as I continue on this path toward Your heart and Your will, I will not cower when it seems tough to do what you have asked me to do. And let the devotion of my heart be upon you, and not upon packages, presents, wrapping paper and bows. In Jesus' name, AMEN.