Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Advent 2017 #12: The Snuggling Savior


Most nativity scenes depict baby Jesus as wrapped in tight strips of white fabric,  lying on his back. He's always awake, looking around, ready to deliver a heavenly blessing to any who happen by for a visit.

I often wonder if the designers of nativity sets have ever spent time with an infant. 

Those scenes look charming, but that's not what newborn babies do. Instead, they sleep, cry, eat, and release waste. They need to be fed, changed, and snuggled. 

When Jesus was old enough to give hugs, I think he was the snuggliest boy around, mainly because Isaiah described Him as a snuggly Savior. 

"Behold, His reward is with Him,
And His recompense before Him,
Like a shepherd He will tend His flock,
In His arm He will gather His lambs,
And carry them in His bosom;
He will gently lead the nursing ewes.
                                            
                                  Isaiah 39:10b-11 nasb 

Let's pause long enough to see Isaiah's word picture clearly in our minds. The Good Shepherd gathers up His little lambs, whether they're tired, injured, wayward, or simply need extra love, and snuggles them close. He holds them tight against His chest (bosom), where they can hear His heavenly heartbeat. 

The slow, steady rhythm of our undisturbed, never-rattled Savior's heart beats a comforting song of safety and peace.

Be still and listen for a moment. Isn't it a comforting image?

I think it's how our Lord still cares for us today. Once, many years ago, I was going through a difficult time of heartbreak and adversity. I was in my prayer room, sobbing my eyes out, face down on the floor. I heard someone enter the room, but I couldn't muster the strength to look up. I assumed it was a friend I'd been expecting. 

Someone sat down beside me and gently stroked my hair as I cried. The room gradually filled with warmth, hope, and peace. I can still feel that gentle hand on my head as the light of heaven invaded me and flooded through my entire body. It felt warm and familiar. 

My tears slowed, then stopped. I rested in the most peace I'd felt in weeks. Gradually, I sat up and looked around for the person who'd touched my hair so sweetly. I was alone in the room. 

Maybe I had a tactile hallucination, but I prefer to think the Spirit of our Lord comforted me in my distress. The warmth of that comfort has stayed with me for years. It wasn't a snuggle, exactly, but, in a very real way, it felt like one.

It was only possible because I was still and on my face in prayer. My problems drove me to the place of comfort. It was the place I needed most.

The Christmas season is beautiful and filled with love, friends, family, joy, and fun. Unless it isn't. Not everyone enters this season with hope and wholeness. Many face the first Christmas without a dearly loved family member. Many are alone and wish they weren't. Some are burdened with more bills than paying power, more need than provision, more hurt than healing. 

Even if this is the most blessed season you've ever experienced, we still need that sweet sense of the presence of our Savior, who slipped on a coat of flesh so He could dwell among us. He knows, from personal experience, how sweet a hug or snuggle can be. Our Good Shepherd still gathers His lambs and snuggles them close to His heart. 

Let's set aside some time today to be still long enough to feel His presence and experience the peace of being gathered in His arms, carried in His bosom, comforted in His love. 
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Monday, December 11, 2017

Advent 2017 #11: The Heavenly Rejoicing Party


Almost every week, someone at our church comes forward to publicly accept Christ and ask for baptism. Our pastor always reminds us, "The angels are rejoicing today." 

This morning, my mind wandered around that sentence for a while, and finally landed on the idea of throwing a Christmas party for the angels in heaven. It's a startling concept, but Jesus spoke very clearly about joy in heaven. 

"I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance." Luke 15:7

The word translated as joy indicates great gladness. Of course, I don't know if they have a party or not, but we do know the angels celebrate the act of repentance and the right standing with God it brings.  

Ponder this with me for a bit. In that agonizing moment when we finally see ourselves as God sees us and our heart is broken over our sin, the angels take note. They listen carefully to see how we will respond. 

If our brokenness results in repentance of sin and turning to God, the angels are filled with joy. They celebrate. 

In my pondering, I wondered what would happen in heaven if a church-full of people decided to surrender their will to God's and repent of their sin. Imagine the rejoicing there would be if multiple men, women, and children went to the altar and sincerely repented. 

A rejoicing-party would spontaneously erupt in heaven. I can imagine Jesus laughing with delight. How wonderful would that be?

It sounds fanciful, I know. 

The Heavenly Rejoicing Party is, however, rooted in absolute truth. Jesus said angels rejoice when one sinner repents. Since none of us are righteous, and we all have sin for which repentance is due, we can all participate in this gifting. 

If more of us would repent and turn to Him with undivided hearts, there would be more rejoicing in heaven. 

This Christmas, I'm praying we'll give Jesus (and the angels) the gift of repentance. Let's do it together and repent until all the work of repentance is done. It's a gift that blesses both directions. We get clean hearts and heaven gets rejoicing. What's not to love about that?

"In the same way, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents." Luke 15:10 
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In case you missed yesterday's post, here's the link: #10 When Peace is Fleeting but Jesus is Still Our Joy

Here are the links to the other posts in this series: #9: God's Love Language

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Sunday, December 10, 2017

Advent 2017 #10: When Peace is Fleeting but Jesus is Still our Joy


We light the pink candle today, the third Sunday in Advent. This candle represents JOY. At Christmas, we have many reasons for joy: the birth of our Savior, forgiveness of sin, the redemption He brought to a world filled with sinners, Holy Spirit as comforter and helper, the unity of the body of Christ. 

In addition to the spiritual joy-motivators, there's also Christmas music, Christmas pageants, snow, Handel's Messiah, and Christmas sweaters. It's a fun season, as well as a joyful one.

Today, though, I "feel" more concern for our world than joy. I'm especially concerned over the Middle East, where there has been considerable anger, as well as many protests, over President Trump's announcement on Wednesday, recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. 

It frightens me for the places I love to be in an uproar. I hate the conflict, the anger, the disdain, the venom. 

I'm not stating an opinion one way or the other about our President's decision, because I love people on both sides of the issue, but the unrest and rioting break my heart. I'm afraid of where we're headed. I don't know what's best, and I don't know how to bring peace. I wish I did.

As fragile peace evaporates like droplets on a hot skillet, I wonder, where's the Christmas joy in all the discord? 

I think of joy as a feeling, but, according to the angels who greeted the shepherds when Jesus was born, joy's not a feeling at all. 

It's a Savior.

"And the angel said to them, 'Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which shall be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.'" Luke 2:10-11 nasb

This "joy for all the people" hasn't changed since the angels first announced it so many centuries ago. Jesus was our reason for joy then, and He still is. 

Today, I'm turning my eyes from the troubles of this world and putting them on the Joy who snuggled in the manger while the angels sang. He loved and healed and taught and delivered. Joy sacrificed Himself as payment for all the wrong we've ever done and ever will do. He rose to conquer sin and death and He reigns forever at the right hand of God.

Joy reigns, and it gives me great hope. 

Our world is full of strife and struggle. No matter how bad things look on this earth, Jesus our Joy is still on His throne, so take heart. He has overcome the world and that's reason enough to celebrate. 

"Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer." Romans 12:12 niv
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When you like and share this post, it expands our digital reach and more people have the opportunity to read this series. It makes a bigger difference than you can imagine! Thanks for helping!

In case you missed yesterday's post, here's the link: #9: God's Love Language

Here are the links to the other posts in this series: #8: The Love that Saves Us from the Maggot Bed#7: Finding the Safe Place in a Crazy World#6: The Preparation of God's Love, #5: When Joy Flowed Forth and Splashed Into My Heart , #4 The King Who Will Not Let Us Down., #3 Preparing for Transformation#2 Preparing for the King with an Humble Heart, and #1 Getting Ready for Jesus.

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Saturday, December 9, 2017

Advent 2017 #9: God's Love Language


I've struggled to write this morning. Interesting things have happened this week, but none relate particularly well to the topics of love or advent. I don't have a story to share, and I wish I did. 

Although not a very spiritual method for finding a topic, I finally Googled "verse and this is love." When I saw the results, I laughed. It must've been the Apostle John's favorite phrase.

1 John 3:16 - "This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters." niv

1 John 4:10 - "This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins." niv

1 John 5:3 - "In fact, this is love for God: to keep His commands. And His commands are not burdensome," niv

The best demonstration of love ever given was when Jesus laid down His life to pay our sin debt. We're to recognize and measure all other love by the standard of self-sacrifice. 

If we love someone, we're willing to deny our desires for theirs, our needs for theirs. We're willing to lay down our lives for them.

If we love God, John wrote, we'll obey Him. We're not talking Mosaiac law or Pharisaical nit-picking. The Royal Law of Our King (according to James) is fairly simple to understand. 

Love God. 
Love others. 
Give it all you've got.

The Virgin Mary loved God with a give-it-all-you've-got love. When the angel appeared and said, "You're going to have God's son," she knew she was in for a tough time. She was a virgin, engaged to man with whom she'd never been intimate. Mary knew what people would think and how they'd whisper. She knew those whispers would follow her all her life. 

Despite all she faced, she rejoiced at the chance to serve her God and Savior and took delight in the promise of blessing to come. Mary counted herself blessed, even before her pregnancy began.

 It wasn't an easy life, but she surely felt the pleasure and smile of God. Imagine having Jesus for a son. Growing up years must have been wonderful. The crucifixion and tomb-time were terrible, but oh, the joy of Resurrection! 

I want to love God the way Mary loved. Wide-open. Completely abandoned to Him. Don't you?

This Christmas, let's take a closer look at the love of God. Have we allowed it to change our lives? Does it direct and inform the way we love? Do we demonstrate our love for God by simple obedience? If not, what does it say about our relationship to Him?

We don't love God by having the biggest tree, the most glittery decorations,  or the most expensive pile of gifts. We don't love God with the largest donation to a worthy cause. Those may be what we do, and they may speak volumes about our relationship with Him, but trees and stuff and money are not God's love language. 

His love language is sacrifice, faithfulness, justice, mercy.

If we love God, we sacrifice, just as He did. We obey, as Jesus did on the cross. This Christmas season, let's demonstrate the real love of Christmas to a lost and perishing world. Love as Christ loved. Keep our eye on the cross, even when all we see right now is the manger. 

2 John 1:6 - "And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love." niv 
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When you like and share this post, it expands our digital reach and more people have the opportunity to read this series. It makes a bigger difference than you can imagine! Thanks for helping!

In case you missed yesterday's post, here's the link: #8: The Love that Saves Us from the Maggot Bed

Here are the links to the other posts in this series: #7: Finding the Safe Place in a Crazy World#6: The Preparation of God's Love, #5: When Joy Flowed Forth and Splashed Into My Heart , #4 The King Who Will Not Let Us Down., #3 Preparing for Transformation#2 Preparing for the King with an Humble Heart, and #1 Getting Ready for Jesus.

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Friday, December 8, 2017

Advent 2017 #8: The Love that Saves Us From the Maggot Bed


Isaiah shocked me this morning with a very unexpected bit of information (Isaiah 14:9-11). Those in hell are excited to have more people join them and, when new residents arrive, the "spirits of the dead, all the leaders of the earth" are aroused to greet them. 

This is not likely to be a warm and happy greeting, if for no other reason than the facilities for rest. In hell, maggots are spread out for beds and worms are the covers. Visualize that in your mind for a moment, if you can stand it.

Yeah. I'm having a hard time with it, too.

Since this week's Advent candle symbolized LOVE, I intended to write about the love of God today. I was completely stymied by the worms and maggots, though. 

"Lord," I prayed, "Where's the love in this writhing bed of grossness?" 

Immediately, Romans 3:23 came to mind. "All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God." Those words reminded me of Romans 6:23, "The wages of sin is death but the free gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord." 

I memorized those verses together when I was in Girls' Auxiliary a lot of decades ago. Today, I gained a deeper understanding of them. 

We've all done wrong things, we all sin, and we all deserve hell. It's a place of eternal torment and the only rest you get is lying on a bed of maggots with a bunch of worms covering you. The fire would be torment enough for me, but the worms and maggots take it to another level of horrible.

We'd all end up there, too, if not for the love and grace of God. Romans 5:8 tells us that God showed His love to us by allowing Christ to come to earth as a little baby, live a sinless life, and die on the cross in our place. 

At Christmas, it's easy to focus on decorations and gifts, but they aren't the point. The point is Jesus. The Holy Baby was born to show us God's love in the flesh, a love so fierce that, even though we deserved the worst He could give, God gave us His best, His Son. 

Our course, sin is so entrenched in us that we couldn't see His good example and follow it to a sinless life. We're hopeless on our own. It's only through Christ's goodness, sacrifice, and resurrected redemption that we're able to escape the consequences of our choices.

Only Jesus sets us free from ourselves and our sinfulness. Only He can give us peace with God and an eternity with Him.

It's more love than I can fully comprehend, but, this Christmas, I intend to embrace it. Today, let's pause long enough to ponder our great sinfulness and the massive, hell-shattering love that sets us free. Let's not stop at pondering. Instead, abandon ourselves to the only One who loves us enough to save us. 

If that isn't love, I don't know what is. 

"But God demonstrates His love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us." Romans 5:8 esv
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When you like and share this post, it expands our digital reach and more people have the opportunity to read this series. It makes a bigger difference than you can imagine! Thanks for helping!

In case you missed yesterday's post, here's the link: #7: Finding the Safe Place in a Crazy World

Here are the links to the other posts in this series:#6: The Preparation of God's Love, #5: When Joy Flowed Forth and Splashed Into My Heart , #4 The King Who Will Not Let Us Down., #3 Preparing for Transformation#2 Preparing for the King with an Humble Heart, and #1 Getting Ready for Jesus

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Thursday, December 7, 2017

Advent 2017 #7: Finding the Safe Place in a Crazy World


I knew I had a stalker long before I said something in public. I knew it was a creepy situation, and going in a bad direction, because I'd had a stalker before. The first stalker was a psychopath. I learned to stay out of his way as much as possible. Eventually, he went to prison for another crime.

The first time I said something about the cyber-stalker was during a class with a group of women I didn't know well, but trusted. We were talking about social media. I confessed I was afraid to become a "public figure" because of the "crazies" I might attract. "I don't want the stalkers to be able to find me," I said. 

"Stalkers?" someone asked.

"Yeah. Those guys who get fixated on you and kinda stalk you."

People were shocked. They didn't have stalkers. If I had stalkers, it was my fault, they told me. Something was wrong in me. I should be delivered of it. Someone gave me the contact information for a person who could help me pray through this "wrongness" in me that caused me to attract unwanted attention.

I considered contacting them. These women said it was my fault, so it must be true. I didn't want to believe them, but I'd experienced considerable harassment when I was younger, as well as the first stalker. I believed much of it was my own fault. Maybe there was something bad in me that caused these people to do wrong things.

I can't believe I considered this nonsense. These criminals may be attracted to the vulnerability I share in my blog posts, but that's their flaw, not mine. I might need to recognize the problem earlier and set a tighter limit, but I didn't cause their sin.

It was not my fault. 

The first stalker wasn't my fault and the cyberstalker wasn't either. The men who thought they could say anything and do anything were not my fault either. The people who thought it was funny to see me blush when they said and did outrageous and offensive things were not my fault.

The silence was my fault.  

Instead of speaking up, I accepted the behavior and went along. Eventually, this outrageous behavior seemed normal to me, but it wasn't. In my younger years, I made lifestyle choices that still shock me, still shame me. I wasn't much better than the people who did and said all those wrong things. 

The acceptance of the unacceptable was my fault.

I still vividly remember a day, decades ago, when, for that moment in time, I'd had enough. The tiger-woman in me emerged. "Say that one more time. I want to get it right for my attorney. He'd love to hear what you just said."  I was still in training, and I put everything on the line when I said those words to a man who held considerable power over me at the time. I no longer cared. 

I can still hear the ugly things he called me in response. I can still see the shock in his face. He was furious, but he backed down. 

That kind of treatment leaves scars that run deep.

I put the future of my medical career on the line that day, and, in that moment, I understood something shocking. I didn't care if I ended my career or not. At least for that moment, enough was enough. It took years for me to repent of my own sin and sort out who was guilty of what, but that day was a start.

Today, I read the Time article about the person of the year, The Silence Breakers. The women who spoke up about the sexual harassment and abuse they'd experienced have been honored for their actions. I wept all the way through the article and for a good while afterward.

"Finally, Lord," I said over and over again as I read. 

I've thanked God today for the women who had the courage to come forward and call a halt to what should have never been tolerated. I've thanked God for the men and women who responded to the complaints with decisive action. I wished I'd said something nearly forty years ago. My life, and my choices, might've been different.

What does this have to do with Advent? 

What I wanted was a safe place, where neither harassment nor abuse existed. I found that safe place in Jesus Christ. He may have so-called followers who aren't safe, but He is. 

I read these beautiful words this morning about the Messiah and wept for the sweetness of our Savior, who honored women in a time when they were nothing but possessions. I gave thanks for the Christ who treats women as equal with men, for the Father who loves us all with tenderness and righteousness.

"And the wolf will dwell with the lamb, and the leopard will lie down the with the kid, and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little boy will lead them." Isaiah 11:6 nasb

Jesus is a safe place for the vulnerable, the weak, and the fragile. One day, the lamb will be safe with the wolf; the baby goat (kid) will be safe with the leopard. The devourers will no longer devour their pray. 

Safe. 

The tenderest among us are safe with Jesus. We all are. In Christ alone, we find our strength and our hope no matter how weak, vulnerable, scarred, or flawed we are.

In a world full of craziness and sin, Jesus is our safe place. As we prepare for Christmas, may we surrender our scars and fears to the One who heals every wound and defends us from every fear and every enemy.

"You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance." Psalm 32:7 niv
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When you like and share this post, it expands our digital reach and more people have the opportunity to read this series. It makes a bigger difference than you can imagine! Thanks for helping!

In case you missed yesterday's post, here's the link: #6: The Preparation of God's Love

Here are the links to the other posts in this series: #5: When Joy Flowed Forth and Splashed Into My Heart , #4 The King Who Will Not Let Us Down., #3 Preparing for Transformation#2 Preparing for the King with an Humble Heart, and #1 Getting Ready for Jesus

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Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Advent #6: The Preparation of God's Love


Her words broke my heart. "I can't believe God loves me." This sweet, and much loved, woman wasn't kidding. She didn't believe God loved her. Despite years of serving Him, she didn't trust the most basic truth on which the entire gospel rests. As a result, she'd missed the sweetness of the love relationship God had planned.

God loved us and sent His Son.

The love of God is a hard concept to comprehend, but it's no less truth. God loves me. He loves you, and His love is unchangeable. It's not dependent upon our goodness or our worthiness. He loves, despite us.

The prophet Jeremiah had an experience that was seared into his heart forever. "The Lord appeared to me from afar, saying, 'I have loved you with an everlasting love; Therefore I have drawn you with lovingkindness.'" (Jer 31:3) When Jeremiah understood that love, the only response he could make was to love in return. 

In that same way, we need a heart-searing experience, too, in which God speaks directly to our hearts. "I love you." We need to hear it for ourselves. When we begin to understand the everlasting love of God for us, it changes everything. We're compelled to love, both God and others, by the deep love shown to us. 

The point of Christmas is summed up in one verse. "God loved us and sent His Son..." (John 3:16) He knew our sin. He knew we deserved death and hell. He could have allowed us to remain in our sin and head straight to destruction, but He didn't. God chose to provide a way out, and that Way is love incarnate. Jesus.

The love of God appeared, wrapped in flesh and swaddling cloths, and nestled in a bed of hay. The love of God dwelt with us, walked among us, healed the sick, gave sight to the blind, raised the dead, and carried the cross. The love of God shattered the power of death and the grave, flung off the stone from in front of the tomb, and rent the division between us. 

The love of God, in the form of the Spirit, dwells within us today. His monumental love is available to all who will believe. 

"for God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life." John 3:16 nasb

"In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins." 1 John 4:10

During the Advent season, we prepare to celebrate the birth of our Lord. Embracing His love is one of our most important acts of preparation. May we each hear the truth of the Lord today and plant it deep in our hearts: 

He loved us. 
He still loves us. 
He will never stop loving us.

Let's read those words aloud and insert our names. "He loved me. He still loves me. He will never stop loving me." 

The love of God is the bedrock of truth. There is no Christmas without it. This day, may we be still long enough to know not only that He is God, but also that God is love and He loves us. 
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When you like and share this post, it expands our digital reach and more people have the opportunity to read this series. It makes a bigger difference than you can imagine! Thanks for helping!

In case you missed yesterday's post, here's the link:#5: When Joy Flowed Forth and Splashed Into My Heart

Here are the links to the other posts in this series: #4 The King Who Will Not Let Us Down., #3 Preparing for Transformation#2 Preparing for the King with an Humble Heart, and #1 Getting Ready for Jesus