Advent: Give Big

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Day Eight: Go and Sell All…And Give

Jesus told him, “If you want to be perfect, go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (Matthew 19:21, NLT)

One day a well-to-do young man came to Jesus. He wanted to know what good deed he needed to do to guarantee eternal life. In the conversation that followed the man was quick to point out his perfect keeping of the Law—I assume he was pretty proud of himself and expected Jesus to give a free-pass into heaven.

I wonder if Jesus was smiling…stifling a laugh at his arrogance and pride…and his self-absorbed confusion about what was truly important. The purpose of the Law is to make sure that we are loving God supremely and caring for our neighbor. To point out how clearly confused the wealthy man was, Jesus gave him an instruction that struck at the heart of his problem: he hadn’t done either requirement. 

Truth for the rich young man was that his amassed wealth was his god, and he wasn’t willing to part with it for anyone…even if it meant missing heaven.

Some of the saddest words in scripture (in my opinion) are attributed then to this man: he went away sad.

This Advent season we have looked into the scriptures to see  the “good thing” we need to do. We have thought about how God values small things. In a time when bright lights, sweet treats, cozy parties serve to cover our real need, we have taken time to focus on God’s valuing of honesty.  Finally, we have pondered the greatness of God’s gift in his son, our savior—and his invitation to be cheerful generous givers.

My prayer is that we have learned what “good thing” we have each needed to address, that we have made sure God is supreme, and our neighbor is cared for.

Because I don’t want any of us to go away sad.

PRAYER: O come, o come, Emmanuel. O come let us adore him…and share the joy he wants to bring to our lives, and to the world. Amen. May it ever be true. Make it true precious God. Make it true.

The Extravagance of Christmas

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Imagine going to a home where both the husband and wife are successful, recognized, and respected doctors. Do you have a mental image?

Recently I had the opportunity to do that with a friend from high school. She and I were traveling from Ohio to Michigan to have a little reunion with another classmate from high school. I tried to imagine what I was going to find. I was battling with feelings of intimidation all the way there.

Driving up to their home, I was surprised by its simplicity. Nothing on the outside screamed of money, or pride, or extravagance. When we were invited in and given the “tour” I felt so welcomed. It was a lovely home, inviting and warm. It was beautifully decorated in its simplicity. The only room my friend claims to have “decorated” is a small half bath. And it is precious. The only ‘extravagance’ I saw, and I’m sure my husband wouldn’t see it as such, was the amazing sixty inch stove in the kitchen.

We had a wonderful visit. And as all good visits do, it ended much too soon. On the way home I chatted with my friend, but I was also carrying on an inner conversation with God. The clearest thing I heard was that extravagance needs to be on the inside—in our spirit. Just as it is with Him.

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I spoke at a banquet not long ago and I shared that my least favorite question of the season is: “So, are you ready for Christmas?” The question begs at what things are still on your to do list, things like shopping and baking. I think the question misses the whole point of Christmas, what Christmas really is. Christmas is about God so lavishly loving the world that he gave his one and only son so that you and I might have life. And he didn’t come with fancy wrapping or trays of cookies.

My husband has always been the kind of person to buy extravagantly. Let’s just tell it like it is: he goes overboard. But it’s the way he is. He has no moderation button. He loves all out. And I really love that about him.

When I was thinking about this, I was reminded of the story Jesus tells: Sitting across from the offering box, he was observing how the crowd tossed money in for the collection. Many of the rich were making large contributions. One poor widow came up and put in two small coins—a measly two cents. Jesus called his disciples over and said, “The truth is that this poor widow gave more to the collection than all the others put together. All the others gave what they’ll never miss; she gave extravagantly what she couldn’t afford—she gave her all.”Mark 12:40-42

That’s what we have to be ready to do. You know what’s really cool about my friends the doctors in Michigan? I think they’ve really figured out how to love that way. I may not be able to give a lot of gifts, but I can give my all whenever and wherever I can.

Are you ready to be that ready?

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Christmas Wonder

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I wonder as I wander out under the sky,
How Jesus the Savior did come for to die.
For poor on’ry people like you and like I…
I wonder as I wander out under the sky.

When Mary birthed Jesus ’twas in a cow’s stall,
With wise men and farmers and shepherds and all.
But high from God’s heaven a star’s light did fall,
And the promise of ages it then did recall.

If Jesus had wanted for any wee thing,
A star in the sky, or a bird on the wing,
Or all of God’s angels in heav’n for to sing,
He surely could have it, ’cause he was the King. (John Jacob Niles)

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Growing up, when I started a conversation with “I wonder…” Mom told me to be careful because if I ‘wondered’ too far I’d get lost.

Maybe getting lost in a little wonder wouldn’t be such a bad thing. Who couldn’t benefit from adding wonder, curiosity and amazement to their life?

It makes me sad that there is so little true wonder. Sure, we wonder where we put things, and how we’ll pay the bills. We wonder about the future…but it’s more like fear.

Listen to the conversations around us: everything is “amazing” or “awesome.” But is it really?

What makes you go “WOW!” Clear down to your toes?
What takes your breath away?
What causes you to shake your head when you try to make sense of it?

The Christmas story does that for me.

After 400 years of silence, of wondering where God was, he burst onto the scene in the most amazing and unexpected way.

A baby, a manger, a carpenter, a teenage girl in a small town.

Go figure.

Go wonder.

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Advent: From Our Fears Release Us

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In my quiet time this morning, I was reflecting on Psalm 3:

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Fear. Fear bordering on paranoia. Bullying.
I read a news clip this week of a teen who killed herself because her peers had been bullying her. My heart ached, for her, for her family, for those peers.
What if this psalm had been breathed into her? What if God, God who could enable her to lay down in perfect peace in the presence of her enemies–and sleep–had been made real for her?
How real is he to me?
Save us, God, from our fears.
The words to an old hymn are in my head now:

Come, thou long expected Jesus, born to set thy people free;
from our fears and sins release us, let us find our rest in thee.
Israel’s strength and consolation, hope of all the earth thou art;
dear desire of every nation, joy of every longing heart. (Charles Wesley)

Oh that we could come to know the Perfect Love that casts out all fear.

Advent 2: Seek and Find

Yesterday we made reference to the childhood game of Hide and Seek as we considered the phrase: Ready or Not.

Is finding God like the childhood game?

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I don’t think so, and here’s why.

When I began my faith journey, two Bible references were laid into my foundation.

Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near (Isaiah 55:6, NIV).

God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us (Acts 17:27, NIV).

Our being able to find God is of primary importance to him. We were created for relationship with him–and with each other.

It’s so important, we’re so important, that the often quoted verse from John’s gospel tells us he gave his son for us to not only know who he is and how he is, but so that we could have that relationship–now and forever.

Jesus wanted us to understand this principle and made it clear in his teaching we refer to as the Sermon on the Mount: Seek and you will find (Matthew 7:7).

So in these season of focus, what are you seeking? Who are you seeking? If you are seeking God, you will find him.

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Advent Begins

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Ready or not…here I come.

Classic line from a child’s game, right?

I think it’s the perfect way to start our journey of Advent.

Readiness. How is one to get ready? Are we ever really ready?

We rush around getting ready for “Christmas” by buying, baking, and decorating. We’re experts in the “rush and hurry” department.

But in our hearts and minds, in our homes, and in our actions, have made room to receive this amazing give that is full of promise and saturated with peace?

He’s coming ready or not. Let’s be ready.

Loving and giving God, giver of all gifts. You know what is on our list, but you know what we truly need. In this season where the focus is often on the trappings and externals, we want to focus (oh how hard that is) and make room for the gift of your son, your self. May the mystery of what that is and how that is unfold and bring us into deeper trust and faith. Show us the path that leads to readiness and help us to walk in it. Amen.

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Emmanuel…God With Us

 

How interesting that while we have spent this entire waiting for Jesus to be born, for God to enter the scene…He has been with us the whole time.

His love has been present.
His grace has been active.
His power has been manifest.

He is Emmanuel. His name is the reminder that God is always with us.

That’s the best gift of all.

No matter what we face. No matter where we are. He is there.

He will never leave us or forsake us.

And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39, NLT

PRAYER: Ever-present, all wise, and loving God, thank you for the gift of your Son…for what it meant and what it means. Help us to keep Christmas in our hearts and our actions all year long. And make us aware of you blessed presence everyday as we journey into another new year. Amen.

 

Christmas Day

Did you get everything you wanted?

Earlier this week I mentioned “unprayed answers.” I was introduced to this concept by a dear man of God. It has stuck with me and become a integral component of my relationship with God.

When this concept was presented it was linked to “The Confederate Soldier’s Prayer.”

No matter what you received this year…or didn’t receive…my prayer is that you will find this prayer true for you.

A CONFEDERATE SOLDIER’S PRAYER
Author Unknown,
(Attributed to a battle weary C.S.A soldier near the end of the war)

I asked God for strength, that I might achieve;
I was made weak, that I might learn humbly to obey.
I asked for health, that I might do greater things;
I was given infirmity, that I might do better things.
I asked for riches, that I might be happy;
I was given poverty, that I might be wise.
I asked for power, that I might have the praise of men;
I was given weakness, that I might feel the need of God.
I asked for all things, that I might enjoy life;
I was given life, that I might enjoy all things.
I got nothing that I asked for, but everything I hoped for.
Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered.
I am among all men most richly blessed.

(I didn’t change the original wording…but rest assured when I pray it, the last line reads much more personally: I am among all most richly blessed.)

And amen!

Advent 24: Be Born In Us Today

This is just a little different from the traditionally way we sing this very familiar and special Christmas hymn.

Allow the freshness and simplicity to bring it’s truth home to you in a new way.

My prayer is that the Savior will truly be born in you today.

God bless.

Advent 23: Consequences

It has not been a fun day at my house. The grandson and the Pepa locked horns. And a very stiff penalty was levied. The child didn’t think the adult was serious. The adult was unbending. There were many tears, but no true repentance. How do I know? The child blamed everyone else and continued to try and negotiate.

This did not help his case. In fact, I believe it only encouraged the adult to feel that he was right in his decision.

As long as we have been parents, foster parents, and grandparents, we have taught that actions have consequences.

And had to learn it, too. I tried to explain that to the child, but his heart was hurting to much to hear.

If you want to talk about harsh consequences, pull up a chair and listen to Adam and Eve’s story. It was just an apple. And they were unfairly tempted. At least that’s the way they saw it. One bite and not only were they booted out of the Garden, but then there was all that business about work and pain. Talk about harsh. I mean the rest of us have been paying for their poor choice through the ages.

But it’s not like we haven’t been warned. The Word is full of warning, the clearest being: you will reap what you sow.

Sometimes watching a child deal consequences makes it not much fun to be a mom or mema. It’s hard to not want to swoop in and rescue. It was very hard today.

In more ways than I want to try and explain, I have learned how choices result in consequences. But at the hardest point in facing those consequences, I found this scripture encouragement:
As for me, I look to the Lord for help.
I wait confidently for God to save me,
and my God will certainly hear me.
8 Do not gloat over me, my enemies!
For though I fall, I will rise again.
Though I sit in darkness,
the Lord will be my light.
9 I will be patient as the Lord punishes me,
for I have sinned against him.
But after that, he will take up my case
and give me justice for all I have suffered from my enemies.
The Lord will bring me into the light,
and I will see his righteousness.
10 Then my enemies will see that the Lord is on my side. (Micah 7:7-10, NLT)

Try as I might, I couldn’t find anything in the Word that spoke to God removing consequences. I wish, but no. Not there.

What is there is the promise that he will be with me…with you…all the way through.

In the darkest times, he will be there. He will be our light. He hears us. And he will bring us back to the light. And we will see his righteousness again.

And that’s good news to hold onto.