Friday, November 30, 2012

Happy Birthday, Jesus?

 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: "Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel" (which means, God with us). When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus. 
Matthew 1:22-25

So there I was, merrily slapping return address labels on my Christmas cards and letting my thoughts wander when two things came into sudden, sharp focus.

     First that I was merrily slapping them on the wrong corner of the envelopes and second that my cousin, Jeneane's, revelation about Christmas was absolutely spot on. Allow me to begin by stating her disclaimer (and mine) that neither one of us think the whole Christmas holiday celebration is in any way evil, wrong, or malign. We both enjoy the festivity, the time with family, and the fudge tremendously. Let me also state for the record that this particular post really is written for the believer in Jesus Christ and not, as some of my other posts are, evangelical in any way.. .  But back to Christmas: We do not believe Christmas fun is wrong. It simply is not in keeping with the current birthday traditions.

     I know. It took me a moment to separate myself from some 38 years of cultural indoctrination concerning Christmas, too.

     When I was a secularist, I gadded about wishing everyone a "Happy Holidays!" Once I became a Christian, I was a zealous wisher of "Merry CHRISTmas" to all, even dropping the obese man in the red suit from our family celebration in favor of simply giving gifts to my kids (and yes, even stockings although they have no delusions who the giver of the stocking gifts are!) and gleefully celebrating the birth of my Savior by buying, making, or baking gifts for those I love and some I just like. And yes, by merrily slapping return address labels on a large stack of Christmas cards. After all, 'tis the season of giving, right?

     The only thing is, in America we typically give gifts to the birthday honoree. In the case of Christmas, as I fervently prattled for the last few years, that birthday Boy is none other than Emmanuel; God With Us. Frantic attempts to convert this particular Birthday celebration from a hectic, greed-filled free-for-all into a time of contemplation and repentance has been only mildly successful and left my cousin and me with the nagging suspicion that something was off. It wasn't until she posed the question that I could put it into words...
     If Christmas is a celebration of the birth of the Christ, why do we not give Him--God With Us, the One for Whom we adamantly proclaim our love and devotion--gifts on His birthday? I have personally never celebrated my husband's birthday by purchasing gifts and cards for almost everyone I know, although I did assure my cousin that I would honor her birthday (which is today, actually) by gifting my children with treats.

     Back to the point: Why do we celebrate the birth of our Lord by overspending, over committing, and overeating instead of reflecting on the reason He humbled Himself to be born at all--to die as a ransom for us? Why is it that we do not focus our efforts on giving gifts to further His Kingdom, perhaps giving all that Christmas gift money to missions, or better yet to go spread the Gospel ourselves?  Why not give to those truly in need rather than to each other who really have no need, or to put it another way, "to visit orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world?"

     Now before I become everyone's favorite person to loathe, let me say that I am not precisely ready to toss out my tree and forsake my chocolate-dipped pretzels. I adore the whole season, and I love giving special gifts to my kids and baking for friends. I am not likely to give it up anytime soon. However, I am reconsidering calling it Christ's birthday celebration and merely thinking of it as a celebration of His gift of salvation and the gift of loved ones old and young who have brightened my life. After all, all good gifts come from the Father of Lights, and I see no problem in celebrating His goodness at the end of each year. In fact, I would like to see myself do that every day.

    In the future, I may call it Jesus's birthday present when we finally take a family mission trip, or when I help someone needy in some way. My family has even considered one day celebrating Christmas by spending all our gift money for each other on a mission trip, and even the little ones are intrigued by the idea. That would be a most excellent Christmas, I think, and I am looking forward to it and, God willing, am hoping to begin planning it soon.

     But for this year, I will celebrate tradition and wrap the already-purchased gifts and making the ingredients packing my pantry into some treat to share with others. I do hope to help some folks in need, and I know the opportunity will arise. It always does, for as Jesus Himself once said, " will always have the poor with you..." and so there will always be need. And I will also finish merrily slapping return address labels on my Christmas card envelopes... only I will be certain to hit the correct corner this time around.

Peace be to the brothers, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace be with all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with love incorruptible. 
Ephesians 6:23-24

Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Saturday, November 24, 2012


     But he himself went a day's journey into the wilderness and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he asked that he might die, saying, "It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers." And he lay down and slept under a broom tree. 
     And behold, an angel touched him and said to him, "Arise and eat." And he looked, and behold, there was at his head a cake baked on hot stones and a jar of water. And he ate and drank and lay down again. And the angel of the LORD came again a second time and touched him and said, "Arise and eat, for the journey is too great for you." 
     And he arose and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mount of God. There he came to a cave and lodged in it. And behold, the word of the LORD came to him, and he said to him, "What are you doing here, Elijah?" 
     He said, "I have been very jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away." 
     And he said, "Go out and stand on the mount before the LORD." And behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper. 
     And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him and said, "What are you doing here, Elijah?" 
     He said, "I have been very jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away." 
     And the LORD said to him, "Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus. And when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael to be king over Syria. And Jehu the son of Nimshi you shall anoint to be king over Israel, and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah you shall anoint to be prophet in your place. And the one who escapes from the sword of Hazael shall Jehu put to death, and the one who escapes from the sword of Jehu shall Elisha put to death. Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him."
1 Kings 19:4-18
     I find that I can greatly identify with Elijah in this Scripture selection, especially now that I am coming full circle with this very passage. A few months ago, I was trying to get into words my sense of kinship with this prophet but it simply would not come out right.  In a state of discouragement and feeling hopeless and drained, I dropped it. Actually I dropped writing altogether not long after, giving in to despair and feeling overwhelmed by fatigue, migraines, and life in general. In my first attempt at packing my affinity with Elijah into verbiage, I was mainly focused on a sort of commiseration with his loneliness. However, now I see that the similarity between my attitude and his runs much more to the ugly side of things: I can identify with the prophet because I, too, melt into a sloppy pool of whine when I am worn out.
     I have been known to say that if my life is poured out to the uttermost in service to my King, it would not be too much for Him to ask. What a splendid and noble sentiment! Unfortunately, it seems that the real me is much less compliant than the idealistic me. In the actual practice of living,  I found myself plugging along, serving my God faithfully and with every ounce of energy that I could muster until I rather abruptly found that I could muster no more. I became weary-- the frequent migraines wore on me, private sorrows seemed to redouble their assault  responsibility seemed to pile higher than ability, and for whatever myriad other reasons I simply broke down. Just like Elijah, I flung myself down (though on a bed not beneath a broom tree) and begged God to go ahead and take me home. I was done. Nothing left, and no desire to keep spinning in my hamster wheel, waiting on the next migraine or misfortune to derail me and send me careening back into the shadowy vale. I was toast, and a decidedly charcoaled bit of toast at that.
     Fortunately for me, God has a great deal more patience than I. When my own children display such dramatics, I am the first to snort a little, raise an eyebrow, and tell them in a most motherly and nurturing way to suck it up. To be frank, there have been times that God has done the same with me, and I needed it. However, at least after my most recent temper tantrum, I apparently needed something more gentle for He has dealt with me much like He did with Elijah from our story today. He sedately listened to me wail and bemoan my fate until I cried myself into a stupor. Then he gave me a time of much-needed rest and woke me only to nourish me. There were no angels and no bread baking over hot coals for me, but there was the Living Water to slake my thirst and the Bread of Life to feed my faltering faith. It was His grace that saw me through my moment of spiritual fatigue and His grace that I am most thankful for today.
     God also reminded me that He is gentle as well as powerful and that sometimes I need to still myself to hear His voice. Not only that, He whispers, but even when I do not see evidence of His labors--no rending earthquakes or furious conflagrations to announce His authority--He is still at work. He can still do dazzling deeds as He did during Elijah's ministry in sending fire from heaven to consume the waterlogged offering. However, sometimes the most dazzling work is done within the human heart;  a still small voice bringing about changed lives one breath at a time.
      And still He did not leave me there. Just as He did so many years ago with the prophet, He reminded me that I still have work to do for Him. I have children to raise, teach, and equip for His work in an increasingly stiff-necked and unreasonable world. If my job is difficult, theirs will be truly impossible without God and without that foundation it is my duty to lay.  I have a husband whose battle is very much on the corporate front lines; a husband who needs support and a safe haven to come to when the whole world seems to stand against him.. And like it or not, I still have writing to do, though it may be a battle against my weak flesh and my weaker will to get it done.
     So here I am... resting and recuperating, steeling myself for the battles I have yet to fight against physical pain and in raising children counter-culturally in a world of increasing moral decay, hate, and strife. I will fight for my family and work diligently at the things which my Lord has given me to do. By His grace alone I will not fall. I am ready.

For you are my lamp, O LORD, and my God lightens my darkness.For by you I can run against a troop, and by my God I can leap over a wall.This God--his way is perfect; the word of the LORD proves true; he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him. For who is God, but the LORD? And who is a rock, except our God? This God is my strong refuge and has made my way blameless. He made my feet like the feet of a deer and set me secure on the heights. He trains my hands for war, so that my arms can bend a bow of bronze. You have given me the shield of your salvation, and your gentleness made me great.
 2 Samuel 22:29-36

Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

From Sorrow to Joy

 Save me, O God! For the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in deep mire, where there is no foothold; I have come into deep waters, and the flood sweeps over me. I am weary with my crying out; my throat is parched. My eyes grow dim with waiting for my God. 
Psalms 69:1-3

     These verses described my mood for a couple of days last week. I had been feeling low and heavily burdened. Private sorrows seemed to swell and requests that I felt compelled to offer with boldness had largely seemed to go, not unanswered, but unheard. Despite a 2-day respite in headaches, I still struggled with fatigue and a sense of despair, feeling that I can do nothing well. At the time, it seemed that chores and duties had stacked up until they threatened to overwhelm me. I was struggling to keep my head above water.

O God, you know my folly; the wrongs I have done are not hidden from you. Let not those who hope in you be put to shame through me, O Lord GOD of hosts; let not those who seek you be brought to dishonor through me, O God of Israel. 
Psalms 69:5-6

     My heart was out of kilter, and my mind was more on myself than it was my God. It could be called a reasonable sense of mingled anticipation and sorrow during an "eye" of the headache storm. However, it was more properly an indulgence in self-pity. And it was not hidden from God. Repentance was called for as was  a lessening of concern for my perceived needs and a greater concern for whether my life was an accurate reflection of the Lord's goodness or a distorted, useless one. 

But as for me, my prayer is to you, O LORD. At an acceptable time, O God, in the abundance of your steadfast love answer me in your saving faithfulness. Deliver me from sinking in the mire; let me be delivered from my enemies and from the deep waters. Let not the flood sweep over me, or the deep swallow me up, or the pit close its mouth over me. Answer me, O LORD, for your steadfast love is good; according to your abundant mercy, turn to me. Hide not your face from your servant; for I am in distress; make haste to answer me. Draw near to my soul, redeem me; ransom me because of my enemies! 
Psalms 69:13-18

     I needed Him then and I need Him now. I cry out to You, oh God! When I wander from Your presence, even when I allow my attention to stray even for a moment, I am quickly lost. My cross seems heavy when I forget what Yours weighed. In my weakness, I plead with You to drag me out of the pit I have stumbled into, to return the meditations of my heart back to Your goodness and love. I can never wander so far or fall so low that I am out of reach of Your hand. The light of Your mercy will always be a beacon to draw me back should I turn my feet from the path and become lost in the gloom. 

I will praise the name of God with a song; I will magnify him with thanksgiving. This will please the LORD more than an ox or a bull with horns and hoofs. When the humble see it they will be glad; you who seek God, let your hearts revive. For the LORD hears the needy and does not despise his own people who are prisoners. Let heaven and earth praise him, the seas and everything that moves in them. 
Psalms 69:30-34

     For my God is worthy of my unmitigated praise and devotion. It is for His purpose that He created me, and all that He allows in my life is meant for my ultimate good--to prosper and not to harm me, to give me a future and a hope. I easily forget sometimes that my future and hope are not bound up in this world, but in a place beyond human reason and rational: a place eternally in the Presence of my King. It is easy to think that pain on earth is eternal, for while I am experiencing it here, it feels eternal. Yet I need not let my feelings affect my belief in and trust in the Lord. He is good when my circumstances are not; He is life when I walk through the valley of the shadow of death; His word is Truth when I am bombarded by conflicting and confusing messages. It is for His sake that I repent of self-pity and once again serve Him willingly. I have said that He is worth every last drop of strength that I have, that even if I am poured out entirely in His service, it is good. He is worth it.
     I have said it; now it is time to live like I mean it.

My strength is Yours, oh God! Use it as You will and forgive me when I complain. Bear me up when I am in pain and when the pain leaves and I am weary. You are worth it, and I will serve You with my whole life, no matter my circumstances. 

 I will extol you, O LORD, for you have drawn me up and have not let my foes rejoice over me. O LORD my God, I cried to you for help, and you have healed me. O LORD, you have brought up my soul from Sheol; you restored me to life from among those who go down to the pit. Sing praises to the LORD, O you his saints, and give thanks to his holy name. For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning. 
Psalms 30:1-5

Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.