Sunday, December 27, 2015

Officially Over...Or Is It?


Whew!  Christmas is officially over, finished, done….well, almost done.  The decorations still need to come down and Jan. 1, 2016 is still in front of us.  But the preparations: baking, shopping, wrapping, opening of gifts…pretty much in the past.  It was wonderful but I look forward to moving into the “routine” of life.

For us, it was a very special time.  Our grandson, Jacob, age 4 ½, participated in the Christmas Eve service at church and that was a “first” for all of us.  Jacob was born with Down syndrome which makes his participation with other children extra special.  My heart was on overflow; his grandpa “assisted” him on stage and Jacob’s daddy sat next to me.  Lenny and I were fighting the tears.

The children sang beautiful songs using gestures and sign language to further illustrate the joyful messages of the music.  It was magical….almost like doing a dance and I have to believe God’s heart was happy.  We honored the baby Jesus’ birth with all we had!

So all of that is behind us….or is it?  There are key words associated with the Jesus celebration, the story that describes His life-changing, history-making birth.  (Or, as our pastor mentioned in his message, Jesus wasn’t really created for the first time in Bethlehem; Jesus has ALWAYS been.  But then and there He was born into an earthly body.) 

Words:  angel, virgin, conceived, betrothed, birth, son, Jesus, Messiah, kingdom, SAVIOR, Immanuel.  Many of those words tend to disappear from our usage once Christmas is over.  They describe a specific event that we “celebrate” and then we move on.

I’d like to suggest we camp here for a moment.  Shouldn’t we really live in a state of “celebration” all year ‘round?  Those shepherds, the lowliest of the current social strata, were given the best news ever, before anyone else heard it.  The angels came to them and their response was to immediately go see this baby.  In Luke 2:15, they say, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.”  They knew God had sent those angels and once they experienced Jesus, they could not wait to tell others!

As we go into 2016, my challenge (and maybe yours?) is to live Christmas in my daily life.  We have received the greatest news ever: that Jesus was born into this messy sinful world.  His birth was foretold by God’s prophets and He arrived just as God had promised. 

My journey with Jesus may start at Christmas but continues all the way to the cross (Good Friday) where He suffered and paid the price for my sins!  (and yours!) And after a brief time of sadness…EASTER ARRIVES! (the final victory over the grave!)

(I know, I just used a lot of exclamation points in the above paragraph…but all of that can’t be described with anything but exclamation points!)

Because I believe in Jesus and have made Him Lord, the Bible says I am totally reassured that nothing can separate me from His love. (Romans 8: 31-39)  May God give me many opportunities in 2016 to share that wonderful news!  This world so needs to know that Christmas can be embraced all year!

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Are You Listening?


Christmas is only days away and life, for many, is pretty frantic.  But “frantic” isn’t all bad if it includes a preschool Christmas program, playing music at the senior center, an evening at my church’s Women’s Christmas event and a trip to Wisconsin to deliver a message of hope to a group of women.

I love focusing on the Christ child through music and message.  I keep my priorities in order by participating in ministry, by engaging in relationships and by staying in God’s Word.  But sometimes….it would seem….there is a lot of sound/activity coming from me and not a lot of listening by me.

The other day I realized how much I needed to withdraw, to sit at the feet of Jesus (spiritually speaking), to enter the “throne room” (which, physically speaking, happens to be in our bedroom) and just listen.  For some of us who lean toward experiencing the joy of life via getting-our-tasks-all-done-and-checked-off-the-list (think Martha in the Biblical Martha/Mary narrative), that is a HUGE challenge!  There is a restlessness that invades my body at the idea of being still.  But never do I want to ignore the nudges of the Holy Spirit and He was telling me to just “be”. 

Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still and know that I am God.”  That is a hard task for me.  I literally ask God to help me with the “still” part. Next thing you know, I think of someone I need to text or another grocery list item pops into my head. Really?!  Those are my thoughts when I come before the Creator of everything?!

 
I really love to sit on our bed when I pray and when possible, I prefer to pray when I am alone in the house.  I pray out loud (a tool to help me stay focused) and “out loud” works best in an empty house.  I love looking out our bedroom window while I am in a prayer mode; there is something about those huge old trees on the other side of the glass.  They are so grand and strong and stable feeling, whatever season it may be.

Back to being still and listening for God’s voice.  AS, I was settling into my “quiet time”, I became immediately distracted by a familiar but unidentifiable sound, kind of like a “ping, ping”.  After a bit of confusion, it occurred to me that it was my iPad!  I love playing “Words with friends” and when words come back, my iPad notifies me.  I think I actually laughed out loud at the irony of it all – is that You, Lord?  Words . With . Friends.

Once I got over the silliness of it all, a question begged to be asked.  Do I hear from God?  If so, how do I hear from Him? 

 

My (partial) list  

Through His written Word
Through A baby’s cry/laugh
Through the Sunday sermon
Through the silence of a new snow
Through the sounds of my husband making coffee in the morning
Through my son thanking me for something
Through my grandson saying, “Nana, I love you.”
Through the ticking of the clock, reminding me of the gift of time
Through the appliances in our home, reminding me everything is working
Through the sounds of a waterfall
Through the cry of the gulls at the beach
Through the wind as it rushes past me while I am on my bike
Through a text message reminding me I am being prayed for
Through a friend who calls to pray for me as she is out walking
 

I also sense His presence in other ways: 

Through the smell of dinner cooking
Through the tender touch of my husband
Through the beauty of a sunset over Lake Michigan
Through the ringing of the doorbell with a friend standing on the other side
Through hugs
Through the sloppy kisses of my young grandsons
Through the book of poetry written by a friend and gifted to us 

 
As we get closer and closer to Christmas, with all of its activity, let us remember to take time to listen, to draw near to the heart of God, by being aware of His presence.  In your heart, may you hear the cries of the baby Jesus, the noises of the animals in the stable and the eternal message of hope.  Jesus came!  Jesus is coming back!  Let us abide in His presence as we celebrate His birthday while looking forward to His return.

 

 

 

 

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Women In Community


The following poem is titled, “Women’s Ministries” found in a book called Poems From The Crucible 52 for you by Dean Schoen:


“Because their feelings go
Deeper in not forgetting
What men may forget,
Women’s hearts reach out
To the congregation’s needs.
They fill the sanctuary with
Voices that harmonize
With the angels in song
And in solo, and then teach
The children on laps of love
About their Redeemer.
They answer the call for
Meals when people most
Need uplifting grace.
First at the altar, giving
In feminine touch and prayer
The comfort needed, and
At service end, they weave
A pattern of love up the
Aisle from side to side
Through the congregation,
Stopping to minister to
One more need before leaving.”

This weekend I was in the company of women, many women.  It was a glorious experience as we gathered to honor and celebrate King Jesus.  We were women of all ages, varied backgrounds, different levels of faith….but united in our desire to join our hearts for an evening of food, fellowship and worship.

I was thrilled when Becki (leader of Women’s Ministries at my local church) and her team asked me to speak at this event.  It was pure pleasure to pray over the message that God wanted me to deliver; over time He revealed His words for these women attending this event.  As I looked over that room where we all gathered, I was struck by the beauty of “womanhood”, particularly viewed from God’s perspective.

We women surely do love our men; they have their own unique design, meant to be celebrated.  But right now I want to lift up and especially encourage my sisters-in-Christ.  The above poem touched upon a few of the wondrous ways women offer love and joy to their church families and communities.

As I allowed my eyes to wander about the room of this gathering of women, smiles and laughter reigned.  Many were decked out in sparkly (or maybe the word is “blingy”) Christmas party clothes.  As I took it all in, I was also aware of certain women who stood out, and was reminded of the individual, unique gifts each woman embraces.

There were women offering wonderful music, and I was in awe of the “harmonious voices” as they declared Jesus’s birth.  My eyes landed on someone who organizes meals for families during challenging times.  I listened to a testimony by one of my “sisters” who opened her heart and life for others to see God in the midst of her messiness.  I watched our ministry leader guide and direct, always with a sense of joy.  Off in a more private area there was a little island of one-on-one ministry happening…woman to woman.  I received hugs and watched women express affection and encouragement, freely and unabashedly.

There are so many stories of women serving….not just in my local community but all over the world.  God has given us much, including the ability to impact the lives of others for HIM.  Women, wear your femininity with humility and boldness. I have a friend who says, “We must develop a thick skin and a tender heart.”  God has gifted us, calls us to Him, pushes us to serve others, and loves and encourages us to “keep on, keepin’ on”.  Let’s celebrate God’s design for our lives and use our wonderful, Godly, feminine traits to lead others to the Christ child this Christmas.

 

Sunday, December 6, 2015

A Jolly Time of Year....or Is It?

We are on that countdown to Christmas; interesting how this time of year has a different effect on each of us.  Our 5 year old grandson’s picture has shown up on Facebook sitting on Santa’s lap.  Meanwhile, his mom and dad are juggling work and family PLUS getting ready for Christmas. 

The last couple of days for us have involved musical programs and times with good friends.  In the next week I will have the great joy and privilege of delivering a message of Christmas hope to a group of women at my church.

It all sounds so jolly….but is it?

Life always presents challenges but there is something about this time of year that brings out the best AND the worst of memories, stresses and joys.

At this very moment I have friends struggling with serious health issues, great losses, financial challenges, marital conflicts and other personal anxieties.  And then there are shootings, political storms and anxiety producing world conflicts.

How depressing you say.  Yes, if our focus is on the world, on busy-ness, on the news and particularly on self.  We Christians, of all people, have every reason to experience great joy, no matter our circumstances. 

In the Biblical story of Christmas (Luke 2), the angel of the Lord appeared to the  shepherds and told them, “I bring you good news of great JOY", etc. That JOY, of course, was Jesus.  Later in His life, Jesus told His followers to “abide” in Him (John 15).

What does it mean to “abide” in Him?  I want to share a very special poem written by my friend, Dean Schoen.  Out of his personal life experiences and his journey with Jesus, came a book of poetry named, Poems From The Crucible 52 for you.  He has given me permission to share. Enjoy….

 

Abiding in Him

 

Abiding in Him

Is to rest, stopping

In gratitude to place

Your burden with Him,

To remain without

Rushing away,

By standing clean in

The center of His love,

And following His shadow

Into sweet stillness.

 

Abiding in Him is to

Stand firm as a reed in

A storm, connected fast

To the cross, to submit by

Melting from alternatives

Into His path.

 

Abiding in Him is to

Go on setting your course

By the drawing of His love,

To reside, to set your table

And to find your sanctuary

In His love.

 

My plan, as my calendar fills up to overflowing, is to abide in Him by spending time in God’s Word, making personal time with God in prayer and lifting my eyes and heart upward.  May we all experience the peace that is available through the practice of abiding.