Saturday, December 28, 2013

Not quite narrowing it down. {A post about gratitude}

I have thought of this for days, this challenge to write about something for which I am thankful.
It was given to me by a woman named Heather who is an 8 year survivor of Mesothelioma...a rare cancer caused by exposure to asbestos.
I'll admit when I heard the word "Mesothelioma" I immediately had visions of lawyer commercials on TV. We've all seen them.  But until I read Heather's story I had never "known" anyone with this disease.
But what a story she has to tell.
It is a story of courage, of determination, of the will to live and see her newborn daughter grow up.
It is a story of hope.

You may remember my precious friend, Arthanise, who went home to Heaven not quite three years ago after battling breast cancer.  Because of her, my heart is more sensitive to cancer.  My stomach lurches at the thought of a child growing up without their mama.  My chest tightens when I imagine a new mother fighting for more time, fighting for health so she can raise her babies.  And my lips turn up in a smile as I remember Arthanise's glow on her very tired face as she realized her Savior was so very near and, though she desperately wanted to watch her kids grow up, she could feel Him so close.
So very close.
And she trusted Him with her future and the future of her children, whether it was hours, days, weeks, or months He would give her before gently taking her home.

Yes, I have much for which to be thankful.  So much that it is extremely difficult to narrow it down to just one.
There are the obvious, friends, health, home, God.  But I wanted to do this right.  To honor Heather's request with time spent in thought and prayer over this post.

So I narrowed it down by not really narrowing it down at all.

You see, I chose Grace.  God's great big all-encompassing free-to- anyone-who-is-willing-to-receive-it Grace.

I am thankful for Grace.

Grace that hung on a cross and bore my shame, despite the fact that I would fail again and again before accepting the Gift of Jesus.
Grace that saved this sinful woman and completely changed the course of my life.
Grace that made the cute guy at the BBQ joint notice me, despite the awful waitress' uniform.  Grace that saw us in a rose garden on Christmas Eve, him on one knee with a red rose held as an offering of forever.
Grace that walked me down the aisle in white, surrounded by a cloud of witnesses, unworthy yet made ready by the work of the Lord for this journey of marriage and family that has now lasted eighteen beautiful years.
Grace that rendered me infertile, forcing me to seek God's plan for our family and making me oddly grateful for an unused womb.
Grace that placed five children in my arms.  Grace that preserved their lives and health until we could get there.  Grace that carried our birthmothers through the unthinkable and gave them the strength to love beyond themselves.
Grace that sees me though each day, giving me wisdom in homeschooling and showing me when to slow down and just enjoy these kids.  Grace that allows my husband to pick up dinner on the way home when we have had "one of those days."
Grace that opens wide the Word of God with insight from Him, often allowing me to share what I learn with you.  Grace that allows me to pray, even when I have neglected to do so.
Grace that I can laugh when looking back on the hard times because God. Is. Faithful

He is always faithful.

Heather, I hope many people read your story and are encouraged as I was!  Thank you for including me in this opportunity to give thanks.    I pray God blesses you with a lifetime of health and love with your precious family!

And if you have read this, would you be so kind as to share it?  Let's finish December strong with a wave of gratitude across the blogosphere!

Monday, December 23, 2013

The Love of Advent

Phil Robertson, Duck Dynasty, Jesus, Love, Candle, Advent, Sin, Christmas

How timely that this week is about love.  As the world shouts in rage over what is sin and what is not, over who gets to judge and who does not, over whether it is "loving like Jesus" to speak hard against sin, we have lit the candle of love.

How timely.

What is love? 

John 14:15 says "If you love me, you will keep my commandments."

A loving God has given the Law.  Knowing that we will never be able to fully meet the requirements of the law, the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.  He lived the sinless life that we would never live and died in our place so that we could have eternal life.

Yet we are not without rules, without guidelines to a holy and God-pleasing life.  

Our perfect Father has done what any good parent will do, given us boundaries.
For our sake, when we want something that is not in our best interest, He tells us "no."

We don't like that word.  No child likes it, but it is so vital to growth and maturity to learn boundaries and live freely within them.

Love is patient and kind.  
Love does not envy or boast.
Love is not arrogant or rude.
Love does not insist on its own way.
Love is not irritable or resentful.
Love does not rejoice at wrongdoing.
Love rejoices with the TRUTH.  (empasis mine)
Love bears all things.
Love believes all things.
Love hopes all things.
Love endures all things.
Love never ends.

Look at this list taken from 1 Corinthians 13.  Look closely.  What is missing?
Weakness.  Love is not weak, love is strong.  Love is willing to do what is best for the beloved, regardless of how the beloved receives it.  
Love grabs the wayward child and yanks them to safety when they run into the street.
Love spanks the hand of a toddler who reaches for a hot stove in order to protect them from injury.
Love looks your brother or sister in the eye when asked the hard questions and tells the truth of God's word, knowing it may end a relationship or cause offense.

Because love is not selfish or pandering.

Love hopes all hopes for the eyes of the sinner to be opened by the power of the Holy Spirit and prays for that very thing, but it speaks the truth.  Love remembers when we were in chains and how the Lord set us free.  Love determines to endure all things in order to bring life and hope to those who walk in darkness.

Love realizes it may be ridiculed or persecuted for being narrow and old-fashioned, but it is not irritable or resentful when the ridicule and persecution strike.  Love bears it and believes the Word of God...that HE is working out all things for good because we are called according to HIS purpose, not our own.  Love realizes that it is not about us, it is about Jesus and His plan for our lives.  We are His ambassadors, though faulty we may be, because God uses cracked pots.  

Love comes from God.  God IS love.  Love is not weak, GOD is not weak.  God is strong and He will give us His strength but we must continue in love.  We must obey His commandments and, like John the Baptist, in Luke 3...speak the Truth, the whole Truth, always with the goal of leading the hearer to a saving knowledge and relationship with Jesus.  Always with the goal of holding their hand and escorting them to the foot of the Throne of God.  

Christmas is the perfect time to begin, if we haven't already.  We are His people, the sheep of HIS pasture.  We are here to enjoy God and glorify Him.  We are bought with a price, a great and unthinkable price, which began on Christmas morning when the Son of God began the long walk to the Cross from the safety of the manger.  Christmas leads to Easter.  Both were necessary because of sin.  My sin.  Your sin.  Their sin.  

If I never recognize my sin, I would never know my need for a Savior.  
When it comes to eternity, knowledge is power.  

The Love of Advent is not warm and fuzzy.  It is tough love,  It is strong.  It is fierce and relentless and endless in it's pursuit of the beloved.

May we, the children of God, truly love like Jesus.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Joy of Advent

joy candle red advent light jesus

Unspeakable Joy

In the midst of darkness we await.
In labor we groan with longing for release...
for deliverance.

Unspeakable Joy.

When clouds hover threatening and thunder rolls,
when we feel we will drown in the torrent...
we cry.

Unspeakable Joy.

As a shaft of light pierces the black,
as the veil of night spilts, shimmering in the promise of dawn...
we lift up our eyes.

He is coming.
He is coming.

This here and now, 
this struggle to trust as the world weighs heavy,
weighs down our tired feet,
this is not our final destination.
We have not arrived.

He is coming.
He is coming.

Our hearts beat with the imminence.
Joseph and Mary are packing their belongings.
She is heavy.  Tired.  Burdened.
They have set their faces like flint toward their destination...

The promise is sure.
The prophecies...they are true.  

Can you feel Him?
The babe turns and kicks and nestles down into position,
prepares to be birthed into a world that will reject Him...
a world that will crucify Him.

Unspeakable joy...
for the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.
For those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
on them a light has shone.  (Isaiah 9:2 ESV)

Unspeakable joy...
Yes, we are a people of joy.
Despite pain and persecution,
despite the forces of darkness that try to turn our focus off of Jesus,
we are a people of joy.

We WILL see a great light.
His light WILL shine.
He comes to die, he dies to live.
He lives in us.

The promise is sure.
The prophecies...they are true.

We, the people of joy,
can light the candles and sing because
the promised one,
our King,
the Lover of our souls...
He is awakening our souls!

Sing..."A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!"

Yes, our Savior is coming!
Hold fast to the joy, the anticipation, the knowing!

You will enlarge the nation of Israel,
and its people will rejoice.
They will rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest
and like warriors dividing the plunder.
(Isaiah 9:3 NLT)

He will.  They will.  WE will!
The promise is sure.
The prophecies...

They are true.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

The Preparation of Advent

Advent Preparation Candle

For David said, “Solomon my son is young and inexperienced, and the house that is to be built for the Lord must be exceedingly magnificent, of fame and glory throughout all lands. I will therefore make preparation for it.” So David provided materials in great quantity before his death.

In 1 Chronicles 4:5, we see David preparing his son for a great work.

He had planned to build the Temple of the Lord, but sin had robbed him of the privilege of completing the work.  God still desired an earthly abode, but it would not be the hands of King David that would construct it.  So David, knowing this, did all he could to prepare his son, Solomon, to finish what he had begun.  He called together his people and they spent what I can only assume were years gathering the materials need to build a house worthy of the Lord.

Then he called for Solomon his son and charged him to build a house for the Lord, the God of Israel. (1 Chron. 4:6)

The preparations had been completed by his father, and now the son would walk out the calling.  Everything was ready, all the materials were gathered and the craftsmen were poised to begin this holy work.  The King was in his last days and his final act of love to his God was to pass on to his son the calling of the Lord for his family.

"Build a house for the LORD."  

Did Solomon's heart beat a little faster when he heard those words?  Did he wonder if he was equipped for such a task?  Or did he know, because his father had prepared him so well, that he was absolutely able, armed fully and gifted for the task that lay ahead?

Because King David stayed hands-on in the life of his son, his son was ready to obey the calling of God.

And then there is this:
Only, may the Lord grant you discretion and understanding, that when he gives you charge over Israel you may keep the law of the Lord your God. (V. 12)

In other words, "Don't screw up the way I did, son.  Use the brain God gave you and obey Him even when things are easy and you are tempted to slack.  Keep your eyes and heart firmly focused on Him and seek Him in everything.  "

What a legacy David left for his son  What a model for me as I raise up my children.  What a lesson for us as we light the candles and prepare for the arrival of the Christ child afresh in our hearts!

Am I gathering a legacy for my kids?  Am I storing up treasures for them, Heavenly ones that will equip them for the task of walking with the Lord and shining His light in the darkness?  Am I focused on what is eternal, seeking how I may better prepare them for making hard decisions, taking a tough stand, sticking out like a sore thumb in a society that screams for confomity?  

As we light the candle of preparation, I pray we are doing these things.  I pray our children are being given every good tool of the Kingdom, clothed in the armor of God, and taught how to discern truth so that when they are grown and we are gone they can continue building upon the foundation the Lord has begun instead of having to start from scratch like too many of us have done.  

The preparation of Advent is more than decorating a wreath.  It is laying a path.  It is pointing with calloused hands toward the One for whom we live.  It is teaching our children and our childrens' children what it looks like to follow Jesus and making sure they have seen it modeled in our lives.  May our hearts beat faster in the anticipation of knowing that we are, indeed, equipped for the calling of God upon our lives.  

May we walk in the confidence of who we are in Christ right up to the manger where we teach our children how to fall on their knees and then rise to walk in obedience to our King!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

The Hope of Advent

It's crazy, really, this faith thing.
This looking and longing and remembering and choosing to stop and peer into a manger.
It doesn't make sense to a world gone mad.

We light the candles and sing of the Holy Night when the stars were brightly shining...
and aren't they shining still?
Aren't the stars twinkling bright and clear tonight as this first day of December draws to a close?
Doesn't light shine even brighter in the darkness?
Yes.  Oh, yes it does!

Hope.  We have hope because Jesus came.  He really came and was nestled against his mother's breast in perfect peace.  Even as the world around him began to hunt him down, he was safe in his Father's plan.
Nothing, not even the hatred and pride of King Herod, could stop what God had set in motion.

Hope.  Yes, we have this hope as an anchor for our soul, that the light of Jesus is shining despite the attempts to snuff it out.  We, his people, the chosen ones, are allowed to glimpse the hope of Heaven lying in a manger.  We are given the privilege of living out his mission, of finding satisfaction in God alone while the rest of the world scrambles frantically to create or purchase what God has already gifted.

Hope.  The promise of eternity wrapped in swaddling clothes.  The very love of God wrapped in flesh and stretched wide, bleeding on a Roman cross.  The light of the world refusing to be extinguished because Truth always wins.

Do you see that?  Truth always wins!

They may think we are crazy, they may call us narrow and primitive and accuse us of needing a "crutch" for our weakness, but one day soon our King will come and we will be clothed in His beauty, robed in white and dancing with our Groom.  One day the world will see the earthly glitter and tinsel fade and His beauty will be revealed and oh, won't it be lovely beyond words?  We will see our hope fulfilled, what the world is chasing blindly will be laid gently into our hands as we sit quietly at His feet.  Oh, that we would be still today long enough for Him to speak to our hearts!

The Hope of Advent is Jesus.  Light the candle, my friend, and watch the darkness flee.

Blessed is the one you choose and bring near,
to dwell in your courts!
We shall be satisfied with the goodness of your house,
the holiness of your temple!

By awesome deeds you answer us with righteousness, 
O God of our salvation,
the hope of all the ends of the earth
and of the farthest seas;
the one who by his strength established the mountains,
being girded with might;
who stills the roaring of the seas,
the roaring of their waves,
the tumult of the peoples,
so that those who dwell at the ends of the earth are in awe at your signs.
You make the going out of the morning and the evening to shout for joy.  
Psalm 65:4-8
Ann Voskamp Cradle to Cross Advent Wreath