The Quiet Of Now . . . .

As I sit at my desk eight days into the new year, I am basking in what I like to refer to as, the-quiet-of-now. The gentle tick-tock-ticking of the grandfather clock in the entryway lends a richness that is soothing as it faithfully measures the passage of these moments. While most clocks chastise, reprimanding us when we are late (again!) others frustrate us as we are held captive while waiting for a long anticipated event to finally take place, Rarely do I count clocks as friends– except for quiet moments such as now that allow for quiet reflection. This morning, as time moves forward according to the rhythm of the grandfather, I am at peace and joy fills my heart. Why? What is at the root of such peace and joy in our unstable times? Remembering how God’s faithfulness carried me through trials, as I held fast to this truth:

I CAN HAVE JOY IN SPITE OF MY CIRCUMSTANCES,
AND I CAN HAVE JOY IN SPITE OF PEOPLE . . .
THROUGH CHRIST WHO STRENGTHENS ME.

The quiet of now . . . ❤️

Four decades ago, when, eager to get to know God better in my new faith, I joined my first Bible study. We were a small group led by an amazing woman named Virginia Franz. From the start, I liked Virginia. She had a way of disarming people with her kind eyes and sparkling smile that drew us all in. During our study of Philippians I learned to respect the way she spoke the truth of Scripture with compassion and grace.

In our six-week-study of Philippians, Virginia developed the concept of joy being dependent, not on having the esteem of other people nor in the fluctuating seasons of life, but in staying Christ-centered. I still smile when I remember how Virginia’s face lit up as she told us how God uses the hardships in our lives to accomplish the (seemingly) impossible. In Paul’s case, Virginia talked about how Paul (chained to a Roman guard 24/7) took advantage of his incarceration as he “talked every guard’s ear off about the love of Christ” and their need of a Savior.*

Paul’s commitment to trust and honor Christ Jesus while in prison, impacted not only the lives of the recipients of his letter, but of countless people centuries later–including our own. In the four chapters of Paul’s letter he mentions “joy” or “rejoice” sixteen times as he encouraged them (and you and I) with these words:

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!
Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation,
by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving,
present your requests to God.
And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding,
will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Philippians 4:4-7

What has stayed with me all these years later was Virginia’s conclusion–posted the last day on a board for all to see and re-posted here to encourage you:

YOU CAN HAVE JOY IN SPITE OF YOUR CIRCUMSTANCES,
AND YOU CAN HAVE JOY IN SPITE OF PEOPLE,
THROUGH CHRIST WHO STRENGTHENS YOU!

How is this possible? By living out Paul’s call to REJOICE . . .ALWAYSl We do this by giving thanks for His love and mercy, and thanks that this is not all there is.) We can give thanks that JOY is no longer dependent on our outward circumstances or other human relationships. No! Joy becomes our reality when we center our minds and hearts on Christ. As we refuse to give way to fear and instead GIVE THANKS that His divine purposes are being worked out–even as darkness appears to have the upper hand–JOY becomes ours.

As we move into 2021, let us enter it in the quiet-of-now confidence of knowing God is in control–determined to refuse fear’s invitation–by steadfastly walking in faith. Giving thanks for (and with!) all of you . . .❤️

All to His Glory!

*Paul shared about this in Philippians 1:12,13
“Now I want you to know, brothers, that my circumstances have actually served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ.” 

 

Joy At Christmas . . . .

Christmas is different this year. Like many of you, I have missed the traditional activities that in years past, have been part of preparing for Christmas:

Gathering together to make wreaths and the magical moment of lighting the first candle on the first Sunday of Advent.

  • Seeing the tree lights burn bright downtown–as local choirs and community join together to sing Christmas carols.
  • Spending casual time with family and friends–exchanging hugs while greeting and again before saying farewell–who knew that something so simple as a hug would become but a distant memory?!!

    “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” John 1:29

I was feeling slightly “off” about what was missing, until I was reminded of the drama that surrounded the birth of Jesus.  I was filled with awe as I read again about the faith of Mary, who embraced God’s Plan for her by telling the angel: “May it be for me as you have said.”*  I was touched by  Joseph’s decision to support Mary, taking her to be his wife while knowing the child she carried was not his own.

Yet it  wasn’t. until I got to the part where some shepherds were visited by an actual angel (for real!), that I was realized what I had been missing . . . JOY!

What awakened that realization was putting myself in the place of some ordinary people who happened to be shepherds tending their sheep late at night:

“But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid! For behold,
I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people:
Today in the city of David a Savior has been born to you.
He is Christ the Lord! And this will be a sign to you:
You will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths
and lying in a manger.”

That night, after being overcome by the light of the angel. the shepherds were entrusted with the most significant pronouncement made in all of human history! If you are willing, I invite you to join me in putting yourself in their place to savor some of the drama of that joy-filled night:

With the sudden appearance of the angel–their adrenalin no doubt coursing through their bodies–the angel told them not be afraid but to receive the exceedingly good news, that God’s promise of a Savior had been fulfilled that night! Of course, it didn’t end there! Luke goes on to describe how the shepherds were then serenaded by a whole host of angels, underscoring the drama of what God had done:

And suddenly there appeared with the angel
a great multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying:
“Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace to men
on whom His favor rests!”
Luke 2:10-14

What would you have thought as this amazing drama unfolded? How would you have responded when it was over, and you were suddenly surrounded by the cold black night and a flock of bleating sheep?

With their adrenaline still pumping and trying retain everything they had seen and heard, the shepherds raced into the little town of Bethlehem to confirm all that the angel described:

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph and the Baby,
who was lying in the manger. After they had seen the Child,
they spread the message they had received about Him.
And all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.”

Luke 2:16-18

Given the wondrous drama they had witnessed, it was only natural for the shepherds–overflowing with joy–to tell everyone they met about all that they has seen and heard the night Jesus was born

During this year, overtaken by the dangers of COVID, I am grateful that my HOPE in Christ, despite the very real challenges, has held me fast. Even so, as Christmas approaches and I  REJOICE in the coming of God’s Son, suddenly that mysterious PEACE that passes all human understanding** has been fully restored. I share this, in the hope that you will join me in embracing the JOY of God’s exceedingly good Gift as His Peace carries us into the new year–Merry Christmas!

All to His Glory!

*Luke 1:38
**Philippians 4:7

From Uncertainty To Eternal Hope . . . .

Months have passed since the pandemic began; the loss of life, of dreams and of fellowship has taken a toll on all of us. In addition to the threat of a virus, tensions have mounted between people ensnared by a willingness to hate.

  • How ARE we, as servants of Christ, to respond to the uncertainties of our time?  
  • What would He have us learn along the way? 

I believe the first thing we need to recognize is that uncertainty in this world is nothing new, Jesus was born into a dark time such as our own, with truth-seekers and truth-haters in need of a Savior. As we approach the celebration of the birth of God’s Son, at the end of this most challenging year, I invite you to join me in savoring the wisdom and encouragement of the Apostle Paul:

Now we have this treasure in jars of clay
to show that this surpassingly great power is from God and not from us.
We are hard pressed on all sides, but not crushed;
perplexed, but not in despair,
persecuted, but not forsaken;
struck down, but not destroyed”

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away,
yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 
For our light and momentary affliction is producing for us
an eternal glory that is far beyond comparison.
So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.
For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

II Corinthians 4:7-8, 16-18

How are we to respond to adversity in uncertain times?  Paul reminds his friends (and us) of our human vulnerability in a fallen world: fragile . . .earthen . . . clay pots. Because of this, we are to rely on God’s Spirit and the Scriptures to provide the wisdom and strength we need each and every day. In such times, when we feel crushed and broken beyond repair, I have found it helpful to distance myself to from whatever has happened and then ask God to give me His eyes to see two things:

  1. The blessing of His protection and provision–that He is with me always.
  2. To learn (and remember!) whatever lesson He wants to teach me.. 

The blessing is that Paul doesn’t leave is in our vulnerable uncertainty,  but encourages us to embrace the certainty of our hope in spending eternity with Christ Jesus! I especially love that Paul calls us to fix our (spiritual) eyes, not on what is seen, but on what is unseen–God Himself

I invite you to join me in asking God to help us look at the past year through His eyes– to see how He watched over and/or provided for you and I. (For me it was this past August when I was hospitalized. It was a place I greatly feared, and yet through it I received the greatest blessing when He removed my fear and drew me to Himself.)* Also, is there a particular lesson you learned, or insight gained about God, that you want to hold onto as we prepare to enter the coming year? (For me, I will never take hugs for granted again!!!)  If so, then please share how God watched over you to encourage others in the comments below!

All to His Glory!

*To read about my journey you’ll find it HERE. . . . ❤️

A Season To Remember . . . .

What comes to your mind when you think of Thanksgiving? My thoughts go immediately to familyfood and giving thanks to God–not just for the “stuff” in my life but for His Divine Presence.

 I remember one Thanksgiving traveling to Grandma and Grandpa Hutcherson’s house from our home in the Los Angeles area. The three-and-a-half hour journey, North from LA to Bakersfield and beyond to Pixley (a small farming community where my dad grew up) was never boring.  As we (Mom, Dad, my brother Norm, and I) made our way out of the busyness of the suburbs, we watched the sunrise in the east. We followed the old Highway 99 Grapevine–tmountainous yet devoid of trees (except for the occasional cluster of black oaks scattered across the dry, grassy landscape– it offered a unique beauty. As we followed 99 down to the wide expanse of the Central Valley, where oil fields and farmland commingled, our excitement grew–we were more than halfway to Grandma and Grandpa’s house!

When we finally reached Pixley we were grateful to stretch our legs as we got out of our car and exchanged hugs all around. Throughout the day, as more family arrived, there were always more hugs and lots of conversation, often spiced with gentle teasing and an abundance of laughter. Grandma Grace, a farmer’s wife and the mother of 6 children, always had things well in hand by the time everyone arrived.The fragrance of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy wafting out of her kitchen had us all salivating as we eagerly listened for the magic words, “Time to eat! Once everything was laid out and the call made, we filled our plates high with Grandma’s fixings and the numerous side-dishes other family brought for our Thanksgiving Feast. Reflecting back, with my grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles and several cousins now gone, it remains a little slice of heaven in my bank of memories . . .💝💝💝

This year . . . the year of COVID–Thanksgiving (and Christmas) will be very different from years past. The warm exchange of hugs will largely be missing and the sharing of food will likely be different too. In fact this holiday season will be one of mourning the loss of loved ones and facing uncertainty.  I don’t know about you, but with so much loss and the “restrictions” placed on many, the idea of any sort of traditional “celebration” seems almost impossible,

So how can we bring good (and perhaps discover blessing) during this tough, unexpected circumstance we find ourselves in? The wisdom of the Apostle Paul provides a timeless framework when it comes to living out God’s will in every season::

“Rejoice always, pray continually,
give thanks in all circumstances;
for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

I Thessalonians 5:16-18

  • Rejoice that when life seems out of control, God is still in control.
  • Pray for your concerns with the confidence that you are heard!.
  • Give thanks to God for watching over you, especially in the tough times.
  • Remember that God sees a larger picture than we do, as He works out His good and perfect will, for our good and His Glory.

How can we work this out practically? How can we bring more light (and with it hope) into this holiday season as we celebrate God’s Sovereign Goodness? Here are some thoughts  to help make this years celebration, is a season to remember:

  1. To be more intentional in “unwrapping” God’s gift of each new day–confessing fears/sin while asking Him to help us see His blessing throughout each day.
  2. Use whatever means available to stay connected with people–especially people you can laugh with to keep your spirits up. (I participate in three different Zoom groups each week that help me take my focus off myself as I connect with others.)
  3. Start a special Thanksgiving Journal –covering the holiday season through Epiphany. Fill it with a log of daily praises (add to it a list of the blessings you have received or witnessed during the past year.) Also include concerns and insights gained that day through people as well as in Scripture,.
  4. Watch for ways to help the needy. (It’s a fact that when we help others we are also encouraged.)
  5. I still plan on decorating my home this Season–focused on the Birth of Jesus–in the hope of encouraging hurting neighbors and friends. (No schlock this year!)

This morning I found comfort in Lamentations that lend a helpful perspective on why thanksgiving to God is so very important this year:

“I remember my affliction and my wandering,
the bitterness and the gall.
I well remember them,
and my soul is downcast within me.
Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for His compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
therefore I will wait for Him.”
The Lord is good to those whose hope is in Him,
to the one who seeks Him;
it is good to wait quietly
for the salvation of the Lord.”
Lamentations 3:19-26

Yes, because of the Lord’s great love we have much to give thanks for. Please join me in giving thanks to Him for the hope that is ours in His Son.

What are some of your thoughts about celebrating the coming Season? Please share with the rest of us in the comments below!

All to His Glory!

When Evil Appears To Have The Upper-Hand . . . .

Several years ago I listened to the testimony of a man who had escaped the atrocities being committed against Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East.  The man went into grim detail about what he had witnessed–entire families being buried alive, young and old suffering torturous deaths–because they refused to abandon their faith.  The man was obviously dismayed by the retelling, yet it was as he described the perpetrators of such evil as “animals” devoid of their humanity, that he sobbed uncontrollably.

As I watched I realized that he was crying out to God–not only for the people who were killed or for those who are still trapped or have been displaced from their loved ones and homes–the man wept as he begged God to save the perpetrators of evil from themselves. As I watched I remembered Jesus crying out on the Cross:

“Father forgive them . . .
for they know not
what they are doing.”

Luke 23:34

When evil appears to have the upper-hand, how are Christians to respond?  It is tempting to react in kind-–“an eye for an eye”—that’s biblicalright?  Here is what Jesus had to say about that:

“You have heard that it was said,
‘eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’
But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. 
If someone strikes you
on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.
And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic,
let him have your cloak as well.  If someone forces you to go one mile,
go with him two miles.  Give to the one who asks you,
and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.” 

Matthew 5:38-42

With regard to dealing with our enemies, Jesus went on to say:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,
that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.” 

(Verses 43-45a)

To turn the other cheek, to offer one’s cloak or go the extra mile are not passive acts–they are examples of an intentional Christ-centered love that is not of this world.  Such love and prayer should always go hand-in-hand when it comes to dealing with evil.  The man in the interview saw the deadness in the eyes of his perpetrators and wept for them–and so should we.  We should weep and pray as we remember that it is from such deadness that we have been saved.

When evil appears to have the upper hand, Christian love reaches out intentionally and sacrificially to help those in need.  The entire chapter of Romans 12 gives instruction on how we are to respond when evil threatens.  It says in part:

“Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.
Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.
Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.
Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.
Share with the Lord’s people who are in need.
Practice hospitality.

(verses 9-13)

The Apostle Paul also warns against repaying evil for evil, but encourages the faithful to trust God to bring about ultimate justice:

Do not repay anyone evil for evil.  Be careful to do what is right . . .
Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath . . .
If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

(Verses 17:19-20)

As I reflect on all of this I am struck by how much courage it takes to love as Christ loves us. I wrote this post six years ago and decided I needed the reminder it contains today.  How about you? Living in the world we live in, does it at times come easier to hate than to love?

I invite you to join me in praying for the courage needed to love as He directs our steps.  Rather than giving way to hatred, pray for wisdom and a deepened faith as we resist the temptation to repay evil with evil–God IS in control and is worthy of our trust!

All to His Glory!

On Coming Full Circle . . . .

Some of my fondest memories of my childhood are of the times when Dad and I stayed up talking all through the night about “life”, family and him fighting as a Marine machine gunner in Korea. He was 23 years old when he was drafted in 1950–having to leave my mom with a just-turned 2 year old little girl named Kathie and another baby (my brother Norm) due to be born in December.

I loved our through-the-night-chats because I learned so much about my dad:

  • Dad and I – November 14, 1970

    He talked about growing up on a farm during the Depression in California; seeing impoverished-looking people move into the state looking for work.

  • Dad talked about how special it was the night I was born–the only girl in the nursery with five baby boys. Dad insisted that the other fathers were “jealous” that he got the only girl!
  • He also talked about fighting in Korea: about how poor the people were who were running for their lives and about many of the young men he served with who, “Didn’t make it home.” 

It was during one of those all night chats that Dad spoke about the future decisions I would face as an adult. One conversation that remained vivid in my mind took place when I was about 11: “Kathie, there will come a time when you will tell me you are in love and want to get married. At that time I will tell you whether I approve or not. If I don’t approve I will tell you only once. If you decide to go ahead and marry anyway, the choice will ultimately be on you. Just remember that you will have to live with the consequences of making that decision for the rest of your life.”

That conversation stayed with me for years. It influenced who I dated, especially who I brought home. When Marshall and I met the attraction was almost instantaneous. When we wanted to get married, we announced our decision rather than asking for permission. Both our families seemed to approve and we started making plans for our wedding.

It was on the night before our wedding that things came full circle. Dad and I had finished work at our family business and were headed over to Marshall’s parents home where the Rehearsal Dinner was going to occur. (The idea was that we would meet at their place, go to the church together for the wedding rehearsal and, when finished, the entire wedding party would go back to enjoy the dinner Marshall’s mother had prepared.)  It was after Dad turned onto Marshall’s parents driveway that he suddenly slammed on the brakes and looked over at me. Because it was in mid-November it was dark, so I couldn’t see him very well. Yet the gentleness of his words washed over me powerfully as he said, “Kathie, your mother and I are very proud of you and of Marshall. You definitely have made the right choice.”

In that moment, the 11 year old girl in me, who so wanted to please her daddy, suddenly felt whole. It was if a soothing balm suddenly made how I saw my future even brighter. I remember little of the rehearsal or the dinner, but I absolutely do remember standing in the beautiful old stone building while holding onto Dad’s strong arm–knowing I had his approval.  I also remember entering the candlelit sanctuary with Dad, and the wonder of seeing the smiling faces of so many family and friends who came to witness Marshall and I say our vows. Most of all I remember the joy of seeing Marshall waiting for me to begin our own new circle.

Fifty years later, having raised three amazing children and continuing to enjoy our 7 grandchildren, I feel as if we have in many ways come full circle. As we celebrate, we do so with gratitude to God for His faithfulness in keeping us together, soothing the rough places with His Presence and making us whole. After sharing five decades of life, the wisdom of Solomon has become increasingly precious to us:

Two are better than one,
because they have a good return for their labor:
If either of them falls down,
one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls
and has no one to help them up.
Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
But how can one keep warm alone?
Though one may be overpowered,
two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”
Ecclesiastes 4:9-12

Do you have a “full circle” story you can share? I would love to hear it in the comments below . . .❤️

All to His Glory!