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!

Freedom in Waiting~

“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.  For the Creation waits in eager expectation . . . . “  Romans 8:18-19a

How are you when it comes to waiting? Looking back, I have to admit there were seasons in my life when, waiting was an agony to press through to where I thought I wanted to be.  It was in such times when I made foolish demands such as, “I want it yesterday!” 

Living in such a fast-paced, go-to culture, waiting is something most people try to avoid.  A Colorado tourism commercial I saw recently reflects our human aversion to waiting as it presents an enticing backdrop of the natural wonders of the Rocky Mountains:

“No longer should we wait . . .
Not for the second-hand . . .
not for the stop light . . .
not for some sign from the sky.
Our skin was meant to feel the sun . . .
our legs to travel . . .
our eyes to see great things.
We will not wait another day,
for waiting . . .
is the opposite of living.”

What I find interesting about the ad is how it showcases Creation as glorious with tall mountains, blue sky and flowers across an expansive meadow.  Even as the text is read, reference is made to there being intent and design in how we (people) were Created, “to feel the sun . . . to travel . . . to see great things.”  Yet from the beginning of the commercial, there is an overriding sense of rebellion against waiting for time or neighbor as the idea of a Creator is derided as “some sign from the sky“:

“No longer should we wait . . . .”

Even in Christian circles the idea of waiting/patience is joked about– “If you pray for patience, you’ll end up stuck in a two-hour traffic jam!”  Yet, waiting is an important discipline within the Christian walk and, in fact, is a reflection of the freedom won for us by Christ.  In our call to “walk by faith, not by sight” much of that walk is spent in waiting.  The point I am trying to communicate here is that how we wait should reflect His Presence in our lives.

As time has passed I have learned to be grateful for the opportunity waiting provides, to appreciate the nuances of “life” happening around me:

I have discovered a gracious freedom in waiting, as my focus has become less on my desires and the things of this world and more on the Sovereign Goodness of God.

To give you a recent example:

Several months ago a military friend received orders to leave his wife, family and friends to serve in Iraq for a year.  These days, you might wonder why such news would be a surprise?  But nearing retirement, this was not exactly the ideal assignment our friends were hoping for.  Tears flowed at the prospect of such a prolonged separation and the danger involved.  Much time in prayer was invested as plans were adjusted and preparations made for Tom’s departure date.  There was a farewell gathering and then the unexpected happened . . . No Visa so his departure was delayed!

One week passed . . . everyone tiptoed around, not wanting to be the one to burst the bubble.  Then came week two . . . still no visa . . . Tom began to fidget, wondering what was going on?  This past week the visa arrived . . . tears flowed as prayers were extended in hope to the Lord of Creation . . . .

Tonight Tom leaves as his wife, his family and his friends who, along with all Creation, “wait in eager expectation” for God to continue to work out His perfect will in Tom’s life and in ours.

Waiting can be hard but there is freedom in waiting for those who trust in a God Who is always and forever Good:

“Have you not known? Have you not heard? 
The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary; His understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might He increases strength.
Even youths shall faint and be weary,and young men shall fall exhausted;
but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; 
they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.”
 Isaiah 40:28-31 (ESV)

All to HIs Glory!

Love & Faithfulness; Salt & Pepper?

 Love and faithfulness are a spiritual duo that bring out the flavor of life, much like what salt and pepper do for our food~

I woke up this morning with a portion of a verse drifting through my mind: “Let love and faithfulness . . . Let love and faithfulness . . . Let love . . . .”   Try as I might, I could not remember the rest!  Looking for closure, I decided to find the verse in my Bible’s concordance for the focus of my morning Journey Notes.   When I looked up “faithfulness” I discovered numerous references tying love and faithfulness together:

“Let love and faithfulness never leave you;
    bind them around your neck,
    write them on the tablet of your heart.”  (Proverbs 3:3)

“Love and faithfulness meet together;
    righteousness and peace kiss each other.”  (Psalm 85:10)

As I read these verses (and others) it struck me that love and faithfulness are a spiritual duo that bring out the flavor of life, much like salt and pepper.  Think about it:

  • Where salt and pepper bring out flavor and dimension in our food; love and faithfulness enhance the flavor and meaning of our lives.
  • It doesn’t take much salt or pepper to make a significant difference in what we taste; this is also true of love and faithfulness.  It never ceases to amaze me how small actions motivated by love and faithfulness can tremendously impact others.
  • Yet, as valuable as salt and pepper are to bring out the best in the food we eat, we consider it “common” and fail to appreciate its worth.  In the business of life, don’t we regard love and faithfulness as common niceties, forgetting their supernatural beginnings?

Psalm 89:14, 15 broadens and enriches our appreciation for love and faithfulness as it reminds us of their “uncommon” roots:

“Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne;
    love and faithfulness go before You.
Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim You,
    who walk in the light of Your Presence, Lord.” 

Love and faithfulness in God’s realm are royally esteemed, bringing out the beauty of all that God has deemed to be righteous and good.  Love and faithfulness in God’s hands unchain the captive, freeing those who trust in Him to radiate the royal love and faithfulness of Jesus to a dark and otherwise hopeless world.

“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.”  (Ephesians 2:4, 5)

There is one aspect that differs between salt and pepper compared to love and faithfulness.   Too much salt or pepper added to a dish can ruin it to the point where the food is inedible.  By contrast, love and faithfulness in God’s economy are meant to applied liberally at every opportunity.  So with that in mind, when the Holy Spirit prompts you to “pass the love and faithfulness” in whatever shape or form, give it freely, just as the Lord has so graciously given to you.  I promise, if He is the motivation in your giving, you will never be sorry!

Solitary Leaning ~

I have learned to enjoy the solitary work of writing.  I never know the direction the process is going to take me and sometimes . . . this may sound a little weird but . . .  sometimes I feel like I am the little dot on an Etch-A-Sketch screen.  I usually start out with an idea or two, but as I get busy writing I many times hit a dead-end.  I struggle with many “false starts” as I back up, re-think the direction I want to go, and try again.  It can be very frustrating and sometimes even painful when I find myself banging my head against a wall of frustration wondering, “How on earth did I get here?!!”  It is then that I remember and turn back to quickly pray, “Lord . . . help! ”   Invariably, every post turns into a treasure hunt as I re-enter the writing process prayerfully seeking His perspective as I write.

Over time I have learned to recognize the value of prayer in solitude – what I refer to as “solitary leaning”– as the key piece that makes whatever we face truly meaningful and productive.

Life is hard; but God is good and ready to meet us at our point of need.  He calls us to enter intimate solitude with Him throughout Scripture.  I love how Psalm 100:3-5 takes our focus off ourselves as we lean into Him as “the sheep of His pasture”:

Know that the Lord is God.
    It is He who made us, and we are His;
    we are His people, the sheep of His pasture.

 Enter His gates with thanksgiving
    and His courts with praise;
    give thanks to Him and praise His name.
 For the Lord is good and His love endures forever;
    His faithfulness continues through all generations.

Are you struggling with fear?  Do you doubt His goodness because of things you regret?  Have you suffered a recent loss that has taken your breath away?  God calls us in whatever state we are in to:

“Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”  (Psalm 46:10)

To “be still, and know” is His call to solitary leaning.  It is an invitation to surrender fear and doubt and the pain of loss as we trust in Him.

In my last post, I wrote about the difference between loneliness and solitude.  The core of loneliness is rooted in our God-given yearning for companionship.  In Genesis 2:18 God made Eve for Adam because, “It’s not good for man to be alone.”  The problem with loneliness arises when we become increasingly self-focused in bitterness and despair and, in the end, abandon God.

The beautiful thing about solitude for Christians is that when we lean into Him through our prayers and look to the Scriptures, we discover a waiting Shepherd ready to meet us at our point of need.  That is what I love about the word-picture in Isaiah 30 that encourages us in our failures to solitary leaning on the Shepherd of our souls:

Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you;
    therefore He will rise up to show you compassion.
For the Lord is a God of justice.
    Blessed are all who wait for Him!  (Verse 18)

Such solitary leaning is a necessity in our creativity as well as in facing trials, grieving losses and remembering above all else, His faithfulness.   I find working in my garden or curling up in a corner working on my Journey Notes to be special places to lean.  Sometimes I actually enjoy being alone in a crowd, when I can sit to the side of all of the activity and just take everything in.  How about you?  Do you have a favorite time or place that you find especially conducive to do some solitary leaning?

All to His Glory!

 

Español | Oromo | Shona

  

The Light We Crave ~

While living in England, we rented a 150 year old flint and brick house in a small village in Suffolk county.  Soon after moving in I discovered a remnant of World War II: a black roller-shade still hung in a small window in the back of the house.  During the war, homes were shuttered and darkened in towns and villages across the Suffolk countryside to hide from German bomber runs.  I was told that a single lit cigarette could be seen from the air on a dark night so the danger was real.  I tried to imagine what it would have been like to hide in my own home, dreading being exposed to the terrors of bombs falling by even a pinprick of light!

It seems the reverse is true today.   We crave light as life around us gets darker:  moral decay blurring perceptions of what is right or wrong, jobs increasingly scarce, families losing their homes, the suicide rate continuing to climb among young people, wars and rumors of wars killing and displacing innocent people.  Rather than allow a paralysis of fear to completely overtake us, we look around for pinpricks of light to keep our bearings.  It helps to hear about the good that people do, like reports of strangers helping each other in times of need.  The problem is, for every act of human kindness comes a plethora of reports of  seemingly unimaginable human ugliness.  When I was in college I remember talking to a friend about “man’s inhumanity to man.”  My friend (an ex-Marine) looked at me soberly as he said, “Kathie, there is no such thing as “inhuman.”  Man is capable of doing all sorts of horrible things.” He was so very right.

So where can we find the light we crave in dark times?  I know of no better resource than the Bible to sort out the mysteries of life in this world and into the next.  Consider what the Apostle John wrote about light:

“This is the message we have heard from Him and declare to you: God is light; in Him there is no darkness at all.  (I John 1: 5-7)

The light we desire is not of this world, it is God Himself.  In fact, it is only because of God’s graciousness that we “crave” light at all.  I Peter 2:9 paints an amazing picture of the dramatic change God effects on those who surrender their hearts to the light of His Son’s love:

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light.”

In the light of Christ we are not only changed, we also discover Hope in this life and in the life to come.   What is totally amazing is that even though the world still is wracked by moral decay, the scarcity of jobs, families losing their homes, a growing suicide rate and, yes, war is as heinous and destructive as ever, it is the Light of Hope in Him that changes our perceptions forever.  It is nothing short of a miracle of grace!   I was touched doing my Journey Notes this morning by these words from II Samuel 22: 28-30,

“You save the humble, but Your eyes are on the haughty to bring them low.  You are my lamp, O LORD, the LORD turns my darkness into light.  With Your help I can advance against a troop; with my God I can scale a wall.”

No matter what you may be facing, the light and love of Jesus will help you through even the darkest trial.  Stay close to Him so that His light and love are reflected through you to a watching, hurting world desperate for Light.  Jesus encourages us with these words from Matthew 5:13a & 16,

“You are the light of the world . . . let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

All to His Glory!

Courage to Trust; Courage to Stand

The first time I asked God for help as a new believer I was stunned by His response: “Kathie, will you trust Me in this?”  Huh?  Back then I did not know HOW to respond to God’s “answer” that came in the form of a question.  Thinking that He misunderstand my question, I very carefully re-framed it.  Funny thing though, His original response seemed to hang in the air everywhere I looked: “Kathie, will you trust me in this?”  It took a while but over time I finally “got it.”  I eventually understood that, whether or not we fully understand what God says, does or allows, is not nearly as important as our willingness to trust in Him alone.  That is essentially the gist of what the apostle Paul meant when he wrote about the challenges of living on this earth in II Corinthians 5:

“For we live by faith, not by sight.” (Verse 7)  

Building a faith relationship with God often requires courage.  Cambridge Dictionaries Online defines courage as, “the ability to control fear and to be willing to deal with something that is dangerous, difficult, or unpleasant.”  The best way to  “control fear” is to interject our faith in God by giving thanks to Him for His love and mercy.   It is as we “live by faith, not by sight” that courage helps us face danger, difficulty and the unpleasant stresses that are part of life.

In an earlier entry I wrote about how a living faith requires courage to love and forgive.  (Click here to check it out.)   Along with loving and forgiving, a living faith may also call for courage to trust and to stand as God gives us strength.    I find it ironic (and somewhat amusing) that God called me to be a counselor even though I am fearful, hate confrontation and am a people-pleaser!  Were I to work with clients in my own strength, my counsel would be of little significance because much of it would be based on fear or strongly influenced by the opinions of  others.   What gives real meaning to the counseling process (and life in general) is the interjection of faith (commitment/courage to trust God) as His Holy Spirit and the Scriptures speak to the heart and mind.  Ultimately, the blessing for the majority of my clients is that as they rely on the Scriptures for guidance, they also discover their place to stand.

Are you facing a challenge that is overwhelming you?  Me to.   At times like these I am tempted to let my fears take over.  (Deep down, I want to be any place other than where I am.)  But that “answer” that came in the form of a question so long ago (“Kathie, will you trust me in this?“) continues to provide the courage needed to trust in Him.  The blessing is that when I let go of those old fears, He provides the courage I would otherwise lack to stand, to wait and to marvel as His amazing Plan is worked out.   I promise you, no matter what you may be facing, HE is so very worthy of your trust!

All to His Glory!