Christmas: A Call to Worship

When thinking about Christmas, what comes to your mind?  Like many, I get wound up when it comes to Christmas.  Between the gift buying, wrapping and mailing of packages, the meal planning and the sorting out of “who is going to do what and when” as we make our way through the Celebration–Christmas can be a bit daunting!  However for others, Christmas conjures up painful memories and can be a season of heightened loneliness–for them, Christmas is a season to get through.

Whether you embrace Christmas or you dread it, I write to remind you that Christmas is not about friends or family–Christmas is a call to worship (celebrate) Christ!  Only as we make Christ the focus of our worship, as we humble ourselves before a holy, loving God, do we discover the glorious heights of experiencing Christ in this Holy Season.

In a conversation that took place between Jesus and a Samaritan woman true worship comes to the forefront.  The woman was a mess by any cultural standard–married five times and the fellow she had been living with was not one of the five!  Many Commentators suggest that the reason she came to the well in the afternoon heat, was probably to avoid being shunned or looked down upon by other townspeople.  Jesus knew this when He started a conversation with her and quickly got her to thinking less about herself and more about her relationship with God.  Verses 25 and 26 stood out especially to me last night:

“‘God is spirit and His worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.’
The woman said, ‘I know that Messiah (called Christ) is coming. When He comes, He will explain everything to us.’
Then Jesus declared, “I who speak to you, am He.'”
John 4:25,26

Jesus not only taught on the subject of worship, He pointed to Himself as the rightful Heir, deserving of that worship!  Inspired by Jesus’ reminder, I remembered the words of one of my favorite hymns, O Come All Ye Faithful:

O Come All Ye Faithful
Joyful and triumphant,
O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem.
Come and behold Him,
Born the King of Angels;
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord.

Hungering for more, I hit youtube.com looking for more opportunities to worship Christ.  Finally, I came upon this Christmas Eve service, recorded in King’s College Chapel in Cambridge, England.  It was a perfect fit for me, having been there many times.  The last time I was there was especially meaningful to me when I attended an evensong communion service with my friend Maggie.  What I love about the recording is that it captures the smallness of men being surrounded by the gargantuan holiness of God–worship that fills and satisfies!  If you get a chance set some time aside (the entire recording is about 45 minutes) and be blessed as I was.

May God bless you richly as you remember His Son . . . .

All to His Glory!

Waiting in Hope . . . .

The diagnosis of cancer for a second family member hit our family hard.  The fact that it involved Luke AND Shannon (married eight years) cast our experience into a realm all its own.   For me, there are moments when I look at them and my mind goes back to their wedding–a day of promises and hope.  During the service, I remember watching their faces as Luke sang a song he wrote for his beautiful bride and watching them recite their vows: “to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health . . . .”  Little did we know how vividly those vows would become the standard for living out each day.

Indeed, life has been hard for our family in many respects . . . let’s face it, who would ever sign-up for a double dose of cancer?!! Yet even so, we can say that God has been very, very good to us as we continue to count our blessings.  I suppose that is why this verse from Isaiah has become so dear to me in recent weeks:

 “Since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived,
no eye has seen any God besides 
You, who acts on behalf of those who wait for Him.”
Isaiah 64:4

Waiting is never easy, especially in this “fast-paced, gotta have it NOW, ‘time waits for no one'” world.  I tend to think that the management of time and our frustration inherent in waiting is more intense now.  However, Isaiah proclaims that our times are not unique when it comes to waiting. I  cannot help but marvel at the patience of a God who continues to reward “those who wait for Him.” 

Waiting in Hope . . . .
Waiting in Hope . . . .

In an odd way, it was a relief as we gathered in the hospital waiting room, trusting that our Shannon was in good hands.  Hours passed . . . almost surreally . . . as we talked, read, shared stories, played games, snacked and watched the Surgical Update Board change as the progress of every patient having surgery that morning was listed. We bore the assorted fears that go with every surgery–but the truly heavy weight we bore was wondering what was to come after the surgery.  Having learned over the past year that with cancer, fear lurks to pounce on even the most stalwart faith.  So . . . we waited in hope, knowing that God will continue to work out His Perfect Plan in each or our lives.

Finally, Shannon’s surgeon walked briskly into the waiting room–we followed like ducks looking for crumbs; wary yet hopeful into the conference room.  What came next was a lesson on what I can only call, “productive waiting” that gave us direction and hope.  He started by telling us about the surgery:

  • The surgery went very well–it was minimally invasive and the “mass” was removed successfully.
  • He saw no other evidence of cancer but admitted that we will not know anything about future treatment until the pathology report was returned.
  • He explained cancer “staging” and how it ties to treatment success rates.

Here is what he said and did that helped our family in the moment and gave us a vision for the weeks to come:

  • He smiled at us with kind eyes, as he shook our hands one-by-one.  (Totally bringing us “on board” as a team.)
  • He told us our primary role should be to help Shannon get well enough that she would be able to leave the hospital in three to five days.
  • Tying in with that, he told us to do everything we could to encourage Shannon to allow her body to rest over the next two weeks.

This may sound silly, but by equipping us with hope and direction in supporting Shannon AND Luke, our load was lightened immensely.  When he left us, we felt energized as our fears slipped away!  I thought about how the direction he gave us reflected the wisdom of Jesus regarding worrying:

“Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.
Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

Matthew 6:34

It has been eight days since Shannon’s surgery.  She came home on “Day Five” and continues to gain strength each day.  Family and friends have reached out in a multitude of ways as we prepare for the Celebration of Christ’s Birth.  We still wait on the pathology report–not anxiously but in faith–trusting in God’s perfect timing.

A few weeks ago, a friend asked me if Shannon having surgery would “ruin” our Christmas?  I must admit that I was grateful for the question as these words came out of my mouth: “Not at all!  If anything, Christmas has become more precious to us as God has been with us every step of the way.”  It’s absolutely true!  We wait as the ancients did, on the only God who continues to care for His own.

We wait in hope for the LORD; He is our help and our shield.
In Him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in His holy name.
May Your unfailing love be with us, LORD, even as we put our hope in You.
Psalm 33:20-22

Merry Christmas All!

All to His Glory!

A Lesson on Brokenness . . . Grace is a Gift!

It happened so quickly!  My husband and I were in a hotel gift shop–killing time really.  While looking at some terra-cotta Christmas ornaments, one I barely touched tumbled to the tile-floor and smashed into pieces.  We looked around for help, surely everyone in the shop heard the crash . . . but no one came.  Dutifully, we looked at each other and started picking up the pieces one-by-one, before making our way to the sales counter.

When I showed the manager the pieces, I must confess that part of me hoped she would forgive the debt owed.  She didn’t.  Instead, she looked at me and the broken pieces and said, “It’s okay Ma’am, I’ll give you a discount . . . that will be $14.” My heart sank as I looked at my husband and said, “I’m sorry, Honey.”  She looked me and asked, “Do you want this?” With tears threatening to spill, I started to say “no”–why would I want such a painful reminder?  However, my husband interjected, “Yes, we will take it–I will put it back together.”  So, she put the pieces into a clear ziploc baggie and we walked out of the shop.

A lesson on brokenness . . . .
A lesson on brokenness . . . .

It was quite a while before either of us spoke.  Inwardly my thoughts seemed to go everywhere at once–embarrassed at breaking the ornament, upset that the store manager was not willing to forgive the debt . . .  I could feel my cheeks getting hot as I struggled inwardly with a growing anger.  Yet, in a flash my anger dissipated as I recognized my sinful and foolish attitude.  Suddenly, these words flew through my mind like an electric banner:

Kathie, you love the idea of grace but you have forgotten that, from start to finish, GRACE IS A GIFT!”  

I felt silly and downright arrogant when I realized what I had done–demanding what can only be received as a gift!  Two passages of Scripture came to mind.  The first was David’s prayer of repentance in Psalm 51.  After being confronted about his adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband, David’s prayer reflects the kind of brokenness that pleases God in verse 17,

“My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.”

The second passage, written by the Apostle Paul in his letter to his friends in Ephesus (chapter 2, verses 4 and 5), boldly declares the wondrous love of God who, in His divine mercy, offers grace to all who repent of their spiritual brokenness:

“But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 
made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions
it is by grace you have been saved.”

As we continued to walk, I found myself bubbling over with excitement at God’s kindness in extending this lesson to me.  Suddenly, I was grateful that my husband had the broken pieces in his pocket and could hardly wait for him to glue the pieces back together.  This Christmas that very special ornament will be hung on our tree with special care, tagged with a note for all to see: Grace is a Gift from start to finish!

All to His Glory!

 

Simple Questions . . . .

Are you looking to encourage someone in their faith right now?  Sometimes it is more helpful to ask simple questions that encourage a thoughtful response, than it is to offer pat answers.  That is how Jesus ministered to countless people from every imaginable background–He asked questions to start a conversation, to respond to those questioning His authority or to help individuals think more broadly.*  Here are a few examples:

  • He opened up a conversation with the socially rejected Samaritan woman at the well with, “Will you give me drink?” before delivering insights on the necessity of worshiping the Father in spirit and in truth.(John 4:7b-26)
  • Speaking to a man who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years Jesus asked, “Do you want to get well?” (John 5:6b)
  • When He saw a great crowd coming toward Him, Jesus asked Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” before feeding the five thousand. (John 6:5b)
  • In Matthew 16 Jesus asked, “Who do you say I am?” Peter responded, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!”  (Verses 15, 16)  

All were ordinary questions that led to powerful, one-on-one shepherding opportunities.   What is amazing is that those same questions continue to challenge hearts and minds in a multitude of ways.  It is at the feet of Jesus that we learn that,

A thoughtfully crafted question can make far greater mileage toward helping others than a pat answer.  

Simple questions . . . better than pat answers
Simple questions . . . better than pat answers

Be you a caring friend, a neighbor or a family member, to ask simple questions can be an important part of building courage and character in others.  Well put questions not only provide helpful information and understanding for the listener, but often can help the one in need to examine their heart.

But what about when we are the ones asking God questions?  Do our questions impact how God responds to us?  ABSOLUTELY!  Personal experience has taught me,

  • When we ask God, “Why?” because we doubt His goodness, very often His response is to ask another rather disconcerting question:  “Will you trust Me in this?”   
  • During those times when He calls us to forgive, but we are fearful (or just plain resistant) and ask Him, “What if it happens again?”  We may feel stonewalled when things get quiet, or be tempted to think He has not heard us or does not care as that same disconcerting question hangs in the air--“Will you trust Me in this?”

Several years ago I found myself in turmoil over God’s call to trust Him after experiencing deep hurt.  For weeks I begged for answers to my, “Why did you allow this to happen?” I dug my heels into the ground when called to forgive as I demanded, “What if it happens again?”  The silence from the Throne was deafening . . . .

Yet, I can still remember the day everything changed . . . the moment when I let go of my demanding “whys” and “what ifs” and instead asked the simple question, “HOW” was I to trust again?  The answer was delivered to me so quickly when I opened my Bible, that it took my breath away! Here is what I read,

“Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.  Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.  Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”  (Ephesians 4:31-5:2)

 That day I learned that the attitude of the heart very much determines God’s answer to us.  Indeed, simple questions asked in the love and humility of Christ Jesus, can open up fresh insights that are not of this world.

All to His Glory!

* Check out 135 Questions Jesus Asked for an interesting list of His questions.

Innocent But Not Naive . . . .

 

As we face the uncertainty of our times. I write to encourage you with the words of Jesus who warned His disciples in Matthew 10:16, 17a:

“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves.  Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.  Be on your guard against men . . . .”

The world has not changed!  To make our way in such a world requires that we be innocent–refusing to involve ourselves in sin–but we cannot afford to be naïve.

Twenty years ago, an estimated one million people were brutally murdered over the course of one hundred days in the Rwandan genocide.   I still remember seeing a photograph of the blood-smeared walls of a small church where its entire congregation perished.  The story that accompanied that picture described how the members of a church had gathered together to give support to one another.  As they were meeting, a bloodthirsty mob intent on killing entered the church.  The mob demanded that the congregation identify fellow members who belonged to the Tutsi minority (the principle target of the genocide.)  The church refused to turn them over as one young girl stood up to the mob and challenged them to not go through with what they were intent on doing.  The crowd responded by killing everyone in the church.  Sadly, not all churches stood so boldly. There were other churches during that awful time who turned over their Tutsi brethren to save themselves.

I cannot say whether the love and courage demonstrated by the young girl and her church later impacted any of those who carried out the butchering of innocence that day.   What I can say is that hearing the story and seeing the blood-smeared walls very much impacted and convicted me to evaluate my faith.  Would I have the courage to stand in the love of Christ as that young girl did?  (Would you?)

Too often Christians wrongly confuse naivety with innocence–choosing to insulate themselves from the rest of the world.  Yet God has gifted us with the Scriptures to equip us to deal effectively–even sacrificially–with a sin sick world.  Consider and be blessed by the wisdom of II Timothy 3:16-17,

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

To serve God well and to love our neighbors as He would have us do, requires that we invest ourselves into knowing and living out the Scriptures daily.

So how are we to strengthen our faith as we live out our lives in a crumbling world?

  1. Faith steadfastly refuses to doubt God’s goodness as it remembers . . . “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son . . . . “  (John 3:16)
  2. A steadfast faith gives thanks to God for the miracle of redemption . . . “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.  (I John 4:10)
  3. A maturing faith depends on God’s Spirit and His Word to provide godly wisdom . . . “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault.”  (James 1:5)
  4. A strengthened faith refuses to bow down to fear . . . “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me . . . .”  Psalm 23:4
Shepherd with lamb in Negev riverbed
Sent out “like sheep among wolves . . .”

All to His Glory!

The Prayers of the Saints . . . .

 
And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints,
ascended before God from the angel’s hand.” 
Revelation 8:4
When I last visited my dad, his once six-foot-four frame was bent and crumbled in his bed from the effects of aging and pneumonia.  Many of you prayed for Dad so I thought you would appreciate this update–the prayers of the saints do touch God’s heart!
So grateful for time with my dad!

My dad is still alive!  When I had to leave him eight months ago I did not expect to see him alive again.  Though very frail, he was dressed and sitting in his wheelchair watching the television when my sister-in-law and I walked into his room last week.  When he saw me, Dad grabbed my hands as he looked into my face repeating softly, “You’re beautiful . . . you’re just so beautiful!”  With tears in my eyes and a grateful heart all I could say was, “Oh Daddy, I love you too!”  We visited until it was time for him to go to lunch, knowing that he would probably need to sleep the rest of the afternoon.  When we left he gladly joined his seatmates as we promised to visit again the following day.

Later that night, my brother received a phone call informing him that Dad was being transported to the hospital emergency room.  Fearing a repeat of the last time Dad was rushed to the hospital, we prayed for Dad as we wondered . . . what was going to happen this time?  The emergency waiting room was overflowing when we arrived; we were told that we would have to wait to be called back to see Dad.  When we were finally called back, instead of seeing him terrified and confused as he struggled to breathe, Dad’s eyes and words met us with marked irritation, “I have been here for an hour and have yet to see a doctor . . . what the heck am I doing here?!!”  My brother and I resisted the temptation to laugh, both of us relieved that this definitely would not be a repeat of what happened before!

We ended up sitting all night with Dad, waiting for the results of tests that would help determine what his doctors thought was the best treatment plan for Dad.  The odd thing about it was that he was more awake and talkative than I had seen him be in over a year!  Several times, worried that he needed to rest, I closed my eyes with the hope that he would follow my example.  When I opened my eyes to see if he was asleep, I was startled to see his eyes staring into my face!  It was as if he was intent on drinking in all that he saw to be savored at some later date.  In the end Dad was released to go home at about four in the morning; but because he is wheelchair bound we had to wait until eight to arrange transportation to return him to his apartment.  A special bus finally arrived to return him to his apartment.  As he was being raised in his wheelchair on the bus’s elevator I was gifted with this most precious sight:

My eighty-seven year old father with his arms raised in victory like Rocky!
 Having endured an “all-nighter” in the confines of a local emergency room . . .
he was happily escaping to return to the place he has come to call “home”. . . .

As he continued to wave and the bus took off, I felt as if we had somehow switched places, as I remembered the day I climbed on the school bus to attend my first day of kindergarten.  Back then it was me, waving happily at the start of a new adventure.  I did not have a camera to take his picture, but it will remain etched in my mind so clearly that I know I will never forget Dad’s joy-filled victory.

It ended up being a wonderful week of blessing for me and my family.  When I left it was a teary but joyful goodbye as I entrusted my dad and family to God’s loving care.

Thank you for your kind prayers, they mean more than you can ever know!

“But thanks be to God who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ
and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of Him.” 
II Corinthians 2:14

All to His Glory!