Saturday, December 31, 2011

Support Beams

In seeking to make the holiday season warm for others, I sometimes begin thinking it is all up to me.  I strive and labor to build my house, my family, but still come up short.  Expectations are not met and as I approach the new year, an overwhelming sense of inadequacy sweeps over me.

I was thinking these thoughts earlier this week when I read from 1st Chronicles.  There David seeks to build a house for God and God answers with . . . no.  Instead, God would build David's house.  I was so encouraged by these words.  It is not up to me to build this family.  When there are fights and squabbles, hurt feelings and rejection I remind myself that God is in charge. He is the one who will accomplish His purposes in this home.  

Just as David was not qualified to build a house for God, so my hands are stained by failures and sins I've committed.  Only God can keep this family on track.  Only God can bear the weight of our troubles.  He is quite capable of holding us together through what may lie ahead.

As I enter the new year, this is my prayer, that God would build my house.  I would open my hand from striving to fix everything and keep everyone happy.  I will let it be okay that things and relationships aren't always perfect.  And I will pray for God's Spirit to move in our hearts and grow us into the likeness of  Christ.  What a burden is lifted when I realize it does not all depend on me.  

The following verses are above my kitchen sink, so as I go about my dailies, I can be reminded to pray for my family and release them into God's hands to mold and shape as He wills.  And as I renew my commitment to personal disciplines and goals for this year, I would do so only in reliance on the One who is in control of all things and able to accomplish His purpose through me.

The year will indeed be blessed as I cling to the promises, leaning all my weighted burdens against the support beams of Jesus.

"...the LORD will build a house for you..."
"Who am I, O LORD God, and what is my family, 
that you have brought me this far?  
And as if this were not enough in your sight, O God,
 you have spoken about the future of the house of your servant."
"There is no one like you, O LORD, and there is no God but you..."
"So your servant has found courage to pray..."

(1 Chron. 17:10,16,17,20,25)

Courage Lord, yes give me confidence to step into the new year on your strength.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Broken People

It was at Christmas, several years ago, that we came home from the hospital broken, not just in body, but in spirit. Even though we had cried out to God earnestly, we thought we might lose our youngest daughter.

Three days earlier we had driven to the emergency room, my heart in my throat as I poured out my frustration in anger to a God that seemed silent.  By the time we got there, the tears I'd tried to hold back began to trickle out into the open and others in the waiting room noticed, graciously letting us go first.

The entire family had been sick almost all of December with a severe case of the flu and we watched helpless as Summer became more and more lethargic, losing pounds rapidly from her already petite 2 or 3 year old body. Now her ankles began to swell.  It was painful to see her so unnatural, so not herself, for normally such a happy child, so very light on her feet, and quick to make others smile.

Many doctors and specialists later, we discovered she had a bone infection in her hip along with dehydration and the flu.  We wrongly assumed our church family would each be too busy with their own Christmas celebrations and so did not ask for help or let our needs be known. We didn't want to interfere on everyone's special family time. . . therefore, we felt very alone. Added to that, we had not been well enough to prepare for Christmas and it hurt to see the disappointment in my older children who had been so patient and flexible throughout the ordeal, go without Christmas.

The bone infection took months with strong medications to heal.  We had to start all over with potty training and even coax her to walk again.  She had to be carried everywhere we went, in just a certain way.  But our entire family continued to be sick, taking turns, passing it on from one person to another. It dragged on for months . . . Jan., Feb., and even into March.  It seemed we could never get well.

In exasperation I cried out to God and told Him I was so sick of being sick. Could He not just heal us?  Surely He was aware of our condition.  And out of the months of silence God finally spoke, "Yes, I'm also so very sick of you being sick . . . spiritually sick."  We were spiritually unhealthy.  God was tired of it, just as I was weary of not being well.  We knew better, but somehow had gotten off track, undisciplined, ungrateful.  Most of all I personally had developed a complaining spirit.

It might not seem like such a big deal to grumble about this or that, after all, I was being honest.  But God takes ungratefulness very seriously.  And I knew the sickness was God's discipline for my critical spirit.  It just took that many months to get it through to my thick skull.  And my children had to suffer for my mess up.  This was a hard one to swallow.

As we step into the new year, so often we focus on dieting and getting physically fit.  But I wonder if we've considered our spiritual health?  I hope I have learned my lesson, but find I often have to be reminded to offer up a sacrifice of praise when I would rather grumble and complain.  This year I plan to choose a grateful heart, and take responsibility for my joy instead of making excuses.  My first step is to tape some verses to the window above my kitchen sink.  There I hope to take every thought captive in obedience to Christ.

And my Summer girl?  She has healed, but seemed stunted in her growth for awhile.  However, you would never know it now, except that we all remember the year the Christmas tree fell over and no one really cared . . . the same year we were all sick forever and a day.  We are well this year but I've never forgotten the time that we weren't.  Thank you, Jesus for physical health--what an amazing blessing we can so easily take for granted. But I remain cautious, for once again I sense the need to pray for spiritual healing.  

I need your discipline, I'm crying out, light the fire in me
I am here to buy gold refined in the fire,
naked and poor, wretched and blind I come,
Clothe me in white, so I won't be ashamed,
Come light the fire again. 
(by Brian Doerksen)

(Note:  Not all sickness is a sign of a spiritual problem.
Most often it is given as a "gift" of rest from our busy lifestyles.)

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Air I Breathe

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

I love reading the Bible.  Not to chalk up brownie points or to feel good about performing a duty, but because it is through the Word along with the Spirit that God reveals Himself to me . . . deeper and fuller all the time.  And it is so very personal.

This is the air I breathe
Your very Word, spoken to me.

I love gazing into the manger scene, up close, thinking about the characters of that amazing drama which makes up the nativity.  

Wrapped within the Christmas story, is a picture of God's bigger plan. Could it be?  So often we read the Christmas story only at Christmas.  But in the past few years I've come across the nativity at other times of life and have seen it in a different light.  I share some of those thoughts with you here. 

Israel was God's own treasured possession, 
special, chosen as a light to the rest of the world.

She was the only nation which held the presence of God so very closely, in a unique way all her own.

But the nation of Israel turned their back on God,  
becoming consumed with idolatry leading to apathy.  

Over and over through its history they continued to defile intimacy with God by chasing after other loves and they became barren . . . desolate . . . 400 years of silence. 

Zechariah and Elizabeth were old.  They had no children.  

They could represent the nation of Israel in some respects--aged and yet unfruitful.  But then God gave them a child in their old age, John, who would prepare the people for their Messiah.  Likewise, the nation of Israel and the Old Testament prepares us for our Messiah in the New Covenant.  Israel in its old age, gave us our Messiah, a tender shoot from the stump of David, of the tribe of Judah.

Mary enters the scene, similar to the church age as it enters history. 

The virgin church, young, without spot or wrinkle, a pure bride for the Son of God.  Jesus, like Joseph, does not condemn us, but rather cares for us and shows great mercy...and in fact betroths us. The Holy Spirit falls on Mary, much like the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost on the followers of Christ. Believers are filled with the Spirit of God . . . pregnant with the Spirit. The prophet Joel speaks of this when he says in these last days God's Spirit will flow freely. (Acts 2:17-21)

Mary could not explain how she was pregnant by the Spirit, 
just that she was. 

So our new birth in Christ cannot be explained except by the power of the Spirit of God. Mary was highly favored of God, as in this church age, we who are followers of Christ, are under the favor of God . . . pure grace. Mary treasured all these things in her heart, and so we hold the precious Holy Spirit within our lives.  We are His temple and have the mind of Christ. This Spirit of God in us produces spiritual fruitfulness, born not of natural descent, or of a husband's will, but of God.  Only by the Spirit of God are we born again.  It is miraculous, mysterious.  Yet with God all things are possible.   

It was the ordinary and unpolished shepherds 
who were first shown the gift of Jesus. 

In the same manner, the ragtag group of disciples were for the most part grubby fishermen, rough around the edges. They carried the precious news of our great salvation, telling everyone they met. After the Holy Spirit came on them, those same ordinary fishermen became eloquent spokesmen for God. Clay pots, holding the pearl of greatest price.

The Scriptures often refer to us as sheep.  Ordinary people, simply jars of clay, who carry the message of salvation within our hearts, the greatest treasure ever.   
 But as followers of Christ we are also a royal priesthood, 
bringing our worship to Jesus, much like the wise men.  (1 Pet. 2:9)

Three gifts. Accepting, even embracing pain and hardship, is gold . . . for the King of kings, who took on the ultimate sacrifice of pain on a cross.  Devotion to the Word and prayer, frankincense . . . for the One who is wholly devoted to me in His promises. And last, myrrh.  Pure worship in dying to my own selfish desires.  Offering all of me to all of Him     . . . who offered all of Himself in His death on the cross.

The Old Testament ends with the prophet Malachi, 
who grieves Israel's tainted worship. 

Am I going through the motions, offering God my leftovers?  Like King Herod, who made an outward show of worshiping God, but in his heart was far from it? 

I like to think of it as going to a restaurant and the waiter, instead of bringing what was ordered, offers a plate of leftovers from a table nearby. So what if its been picked over and no longer presentable, it's still food, is it not? In the same way we bring to God our leftovers and think He should be pleased--our leftover time and service, leftover devotion, leftover worship. Surely after we've fed ourselves God can have the remains. No. God is not pleased. God desires our best, our first fruits.  
 Jesus in the manger, 
is the focal point of all nativity scenes.

I think of this precious life that we, the church, have been given.  It is the focus of our lives. That He died. That He was buried. That He was raised on the third day, all according the Scriptures. . . just as He said it would happen. (1 Cor. 15:1-4)  In the New Covenant of His blood, He offers us a marriage proposal.  Think of it!  Intimacy with our Savior!  What an awesome privilege! The Holy Spirit within us is our guarantee of greater things to come.  
This is the air I breathe,
Your Holy presence, living in me
And I'm desperate for You, Jesus.
 I'm lost without You.

Zechariah and Mary both offer up a song.  

Zechariah's song applies heavily to Israel. (Luke 1:67-79) Mary's song is the song of the church. (Luke 1:46-56)  The next time you read them, notice how they apply in the light of what I've just written here.  I find this fascinating.

When Mary first greets Elizabeth, John leaps in her womb. 

So as the church age and the nation of Israel coincide, Jesus Christ is the leap which intertwines our lives together.  God has not forgotten Israel.  His promises to her remain steadfast forever.  He will restore her to fellowship with Himself in the last days.  And has already, for those who put their faith in Him.  

May I never lose the wonder! 

 Take me deeper Jesus.  Ever deeper into the mystery of Your Word.  

Monday, December 19, 2011

My Cup Overflows

A slight glance at a smooth little bowl painted in toasty orange poppies says it all.  It is my favorite.  Not only is it oh so adorable, but it represents a special evening  with a friend.  I wonder if she knows how she has blessed my heart?

I do not generally care for shopping.  The reason?  I come home feeling discontent, exhausted, and frustrated with the styles, along with a poor body image.  It seems a waste of time.  Depression often settles in.  Perhaps if I were not limited by prices, were skinny, and had friends I could be myself with, I would enjoy it more.

But recently a friend asked me to go shopping with her and our high school daughters.  Somewhat reluctantly, I agreed to go. Wonder of all wonders, I had a blast! Silliness, laughter, and hilarious mishaps lifted my spirits. We didn't talk of the problems of the world or even of our children.  We didn't discuss any deep theological truths.  We simply had fun.  Pure silliness.  I needed that . . . desperately.  Thank you my friend.

We were at a second hand store next to some clothing which just screamed of old lady when we found the most adorable bowl.  I fell in love with it.  There were none others like it, just a small bowl all by itself which I cupped in my hands and took great delight in.  My friend decided to buy it for me.  Oh no, you don't have to do that.  I don't need it.  It's silly.  I was only admiring it.  But no, she wanted to.  So for 99 cents my friend bought me the perfect bowl.

Whenever I have my oatmeal with blueberries, a personal favorite, it is always in that precious bowl. I think of the fun we had and how very greatly my friend encouraged me.  Because the gift represents the fact that she wanted to hang out with me, that she reached past my reserved front to the deeper person within.

Being a pastor's wife is sometimes a lonely place . . . serious, heavy, overwhelming, and I'm not always free to be vulnerable.  My friend thinks it very strange that I actually relish alone times, make every effort to see the sun rise, enjoy reading books, and  find great contentment in doing housework or projects solo, while listening to my favorite radio programs. And I find it strange that she does not do alone and practically lives for socializing.  But somehow, we mesh well.

And the blueberries in the bowl . . . another special gift from a sister.  She leads a quiet life, but displays a generous heart.  Every July she meanders near the foothills of Mt. Hood and picks whopper blueberries, freezing bags of them.  Whenever she visits me, she slips them into my freezer.  She knows how much I love them, but I wonder if she knows how much it blesses my heart, that she would think of me? Thank you my sister.

A little friendship in my bowl has gone a long ways.  Small gifts . . . big hearts.  Whenever I glance at that quaint bowl, almost tiny enough to be a cup,  I receive a touch of joy down in the depths of my soul, and my heart is warmed.  Thank you my friend.

" cup overflows.  Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life."  (Psalm 23:5,6)

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Making of A Song

My youngest daughter plopped in my lap and asked,
"Mom, are you a staccato?"
"A what?"
"A staccato!"  (duh)
"No, I think I'd like to be a 16th--free to dance about with no inhibitions, letting joy flow freely from my life." But we decided I was probably a quarter note . . . consistent, methodical, and sure.

Then we set about to decide what everyone else in the family might be.  My husband was the whole note, the underlying foundation keeping us all together.  Ivy was a half note, being the calm book worm sort and skilled at crafts.  Heather was the 8th note, a little bit of happy, with a party in the works, always on the move.  Tyler was the half rest.  No, I would rather be the rest.  But Tyler won out with his love of calm and intolerance for noise and chaos.  And Summer?  She was definitely the 16th.  No, she was not just a 16th, she informed me, but a stacatto 16th!  Funny, witty, light on her feet, and often found standing on her head on the couch.

But together we make a song.

Notes by themselves do not produce near the thrill of all those notes together.  What a blessing to be part of a family.  To contribute our note to the whole.  To be lifted by the notes of others lives.  We all need each other, even the rests.  All the weight of a song is sometimes held in that moment of rest.

My two youngest daughters recently played a piano duet in a recital.  I'm sure that is where the staccato question originated from.  But they have two different styles of playing.  Two different individuals, who alone can make music, but together make a fuller sound.

As I rub shoulders with various personalities around me, sometimes in conflict I forget their different note and how much I need them. They are a gift, a vital part to a song, that if we work together, we can harmonize into something beautiful in a way that could not be achieved alone.  One is not better than another, each serves a different purpose, while simultaneously contributing to the whole.

As I move into the crunch of the Christmas season and the stress stimulates some irritation, I hope I can remember my daughter's question, "Are you a staccato?"  Perhaps I will demonstrate more grace in understanding each person's place in the song, and only concern myself about playing my own part well.  Hoping to demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit in my life. . . love, joy, peace, kindness, patience, goodness, gentleness, and self-control.  Against such things there is no law.  (Gal. 5:22,23)

Owe no man anything, but to love one another.  (Rom. 13:8)

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Broken Angels

It has begun.  I was determined it wouldn't.  Despite all my preparations to the contrary, the busiest week of the year has descended on me.  Hence, I'm writing a post to relieve my weary feet and veg for a bit. (In hopes that you might also find a moment to read it!)

We planned Christmas to be fairly simple--no traveling, no company, and no big parties to host. We simplified that we might rest . . . and worship. However, I still find myself drawn to the motherly urge to make things perfect for my family.

I recently picked up a favorite glass angel to hang on our tree, and its wing fell off.  Last year this same angel shattered and I meticulously glued it back together.  My thoughts drifted to the angels of heaven.  I wonder if we break their hearts?  I wonder if angels hurt?

Angels long to look into our great salvation. (1 Pet. 1:12)  A favorite Christmas carol says it well, "you who sang creation's story, now proclaim Messiah's birth..." Every time I hear that phrase I think of how glorious it must have been to hear the angels sing!  To witness, from heaven's perspective, the greatest event in human history. . . God made into flesh.  And all to restore broken relationship with mankind.  Simply amazing!

Do angels ache with pain when they see how we celebrate Christmas? What do they think of our activity? Going to this party or that rehearsal.  Endless shopping and decking the halls to exhaustion.  And all the while ignoring His still small voice.  How do I treat this precious gift of all gifts, the pearl of great price?

God has gotten my attention lately.  He often speaks to me through the lessons I prepare for young children each week. Last weekend was one of those moments.  It was a familiar story... Zechariah, Elizabeth, John.  I was drawn to John's life purpose . . . to prepare the people for their Messiah.  And I was keenly aware of my own heart and its need to be prepared for Christmas, prepared for worship . . . for Jesus Himself.

Angels came to common shepherds bringing, "good news of great joy which shall be for all the people...a Savior...Christ the Lord." (Luke 2:10,11)  What great encouragement must have been the angel's words to those who were awaiting the Messiah.  And yes, there were some who were looking . . . prepared.  Ready hearts to receive such news.

As I think of John, that man who made the desert his home, I'm reminded of my own heart's wanderings, a wilderness of Christmas hype.  How I need to prepare a highway for God in my heart, a place where He can easily roam, abide, dwell.  And as I do, the presence of Jesus settles in like the soft drizzle of gentlest rain,  "Comfort, comfort my people, says your God...A voice of one calling . . ."  (Isa. 40:1,3)

I don't know if  theologians would say it is good angel philosophy, but I can't help but think that angel's hearts might be saddened at our response to the song they sang 2,000 plus years ago.  And I know God's heart hurts at the empty way we push Him out.

This came home to me a few years ago at another Christmas when circumstances were far different than they are today.  Broken ornaments were not the tragedy, but rather broken people. (A story for another post soon to come)  A lesson I had not taken lightly . . . yet here, last week, I had momentarily forgotten, until once again I stop and gaze at the Christ child in a manger . . . preparing my heart for Christmas.

 May I never lose the wonder.  

"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men, 
on whom His favor rests." 
(Luke 2:14)

Thursday, December 1, 2011

She Sings

Where did you get those eyes so blue, 
was it from the skies that you passed through . . .

2002 was a year of gifts.  August brought a bundle of delight from the very heart of God, my youngest daughter. Later that same year, (on this day), heaven received a precious life . . . my mom.  A gift exchange of the skies.

And heaven sang.

My mom was a woman who loved God with all her heart and Sunday was her favorite day of the week.  How she delighted in the fellowship of believers! Her soprano voice rang clear while my Dad's bass joined the refrain and all ten of us children filled in with altos and tenors. The old piano didn't stand a chance against the exuberant energy which flowed through my sister's fingers. Walls trembled with the sound of voices raised to God.  And a little bit of heaven came down to us while glory filled our souls.

Now, in the hours before her funeral, God touched my dad with a wee bit of heaven as well.  My middle daughter, Ivy Jordyn, just shy of two years, became the arms of God wrapped around my dad's neck, holding him oh so tightly.  My winter baby was a dusting of comfort and joy as she eagerly lighted from one lap to another in a family that was awkward with hugs, but needed them desperately.

(Ivy, reaching for a song--Nov. 2002)

In the days before my mom entered heaven's realm, God granted me a secret longing as well.  My youngest daughter, Summer Faith, then only three months, nestled in my mom's arms and brought smiles to her heart . . . and comfort to mine.  I wanted my mom to meet my brand new baby daughter.  It was a long ways to travel, and I thought my mom might leave this earth before we got there.  But God took care of that tiny detail.   It mattered and God knew.

(Mom, myself, and Summer--Thanksgiving 2002)

But God had an even greater gift to pour out on me . . . grace.  I was so very afraid of going to the funeral . . . afraid to be real . . . afraid of loneliness . . . the tears . . . and fears.  But God wrapped His presence around me oh so tightly.   I felt it . . . knew it. Strong enough to hold me.  Never had I leaned into grace so fully before.  He gives grace in the time of need . . . when we think we cannot possibly bear the weight, He lifts on wings of strength.

(Mom holding me)

My mom loved Christmas.  As we begin this season of giving, I'm amazed that God would personally grant her a gift, even in her death.  She was caught up by her Savior, on a Sunday, at the start of Christmas.  Little children ran, eager to meet their grandma, wrapping their small arms tightly around her neck . . . grandchildren she had never met, three of them my own children, ushered from the world of the womb to the wonder of heaven.  God most certainly does delight in His children and precious are His gifts . . . tender reunions, as He meets His own, face to face, for "precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints." (Psa. 116:15)

And she still sings.
It's the song of the soul set free.

Thank you Jesus for your hand picked specially thought over gifts.  
Thank you for the greatest gift . . . Yourself,
drawing us so very near to Your heart.