Monday, December 31, 2012

Choose An Open Heart


 

 

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28

 
Every now and then something happens that causes a television show to make the announcement, “you are joining a program already in progress.” We enter most people’s lives that way. With the obvious exception of our children, we join lives whose stories are already in progress. I joined one such life when my life was barely in progress. There isn’t a time in my early life that a woman I’ll call Angie, was not there.

 We lived in very close proximity so my observations of her are very personal.  Angie was cold to the extreme. There was no real option of getting to know her beyond surface information. She was unhappy, dissatisfied with her life and it showed. Watching her I determined to be nothing like her. Where she was unapproachable, chilly and dark, I wanted to be a warm, caring and affectionate person. As a child I was none of those things. I was reluctant, shy and fearful. As I grew life experiences took me more in Angie’s direction.  Don’t offer your heart, don’t show affection and by all means, never, ever let them see you cry. That seemed safe to me, smart but God had a different plan.

 Throughout my life I have been surrounded by small children. Before my children came to me it was younger cousins, then nephews and nieces, after which came babysitting clients and eventually a career in education, primary school education. That is what God used to keep the soft, open, loving parts of my heart alive. Those children were the tools he used to give me the desire to be like them, open, warm, hopeful.

 
God was not foreign to me. I was raised in church. Unfortunately the image of God presented to me there, in my early years, often seemed more in tune with Angie’s life than with mine. Then I met Jesus, really met him, as a person, not a doctrine and life began to change. With the help of his grace I allowed myself to be open, affectionate, compassionate and forgiving. People have seen me cry, although to be completely transparent, that one is still a struggle.

 
Life moved on and I began to experience the harshness of it but with the view of Jesus clearly with me. While my life has certainly presented challenges and there have been times when I’ve wondered if a cold hard heart would have been a safer option, I know that my heart has to be open and inviting if I want Jesus to dwell there. Which brings me back to Angie.

 
My own awakening has made me wonder about her so many times. What happened to cause such darkness? What event prompted her to close off and become cold, bitter and seemingly uncaring? No child starts life that way. How early, I wonder, did the pattern begin?

 Over the years of knowing her I would catch glimpses or get a little information that would lead me to believe that Angie was no more content living that way than I was watching her, but there was no room for conversation. No questions or suggestions would have been tolerated. Her life, in many ways, was a no trespassing zone.

 Angie has passed from this life and I still wonder why she was the way she was. Even though her actions, words and demeanor hurt me deeply I am grateful for the example she gave me, an example not to follow but one from which to learn.

In her last years we did not have contact so I have no idea what the end of her life looked like or if there was any change of heart.  I hope that somewhere in her life there were moments of communion with Jesus that brought her joy. I hope that she was able to forgive those who caused her pain as I have been able to forgive her. I hope at some point she came face to face with the Truth of Jesus Christ and that that truth set her free.

 I hope that someone will read this and decide that risking some hurt and humiliation but having a heart that allows Jesus free reign, is far preferable to staying safely closed and cold. That safe zone is a lie. The hurts still happen but instead of becoming learning experiences they become blocks in a wall that no one can scale.

 Deuteronomy 30:19b says, “ Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.” Choose life, life with Jesus Christ at the center and live well.   

Friday, December 28, 2012

Called By Love


I just began to read the book of Jude, not looking for anything in particular, just because I wanted to read it.  The first words in it grabbed my attention. It reads, “Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and a brother of James.

To those who have been called, who are loved by God the Father and kept by Jesus Christ: Mercy and peace be yours in abundance.”
It’s just the greeting. Maybe it’s the New Testament version of “To whom it may concern.” But read it again. “To those who have been called, who are loved by God the Father and kept by Jesus Christ.”

I was reading Jude, just to read it. I love the last two verses, the doxology, so much and for whatever reason, was drawn just now to read the whole book, which I will do in just a few minutes, after I think about these words above that stopped me. “To those who have been called.” That’s me! My guess is if you are reading this, that’s you!

We have been called by God the Father and are kept by Jesus Christ and if that isn’t fantastic enough, back up to, “who are loved by God the Father.” Called and loved by God!
Some days I take it all for granted. I belong to God. Of course, I do, right? Wrong! God is not pushy. Revelation 3:20 says, “Here I am I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door I will come in and eat with him and he with me.” He will knock and unless we open the door to Him, He will stand outside! God, the one true God, I AM, will knock and wait! God the Father called (knocked) but beyond that, gave me (and I again, I suppose you) the wisdom and humility to answer. The scary thing is I could have said no thanks.

We hear the Gospel referred to as Good News. The word gospel, we are told, means, good news. What could be better news than to know that Jude’s letter, written to “those who have been called, who are loved by God the Father” means us?
There are various greetings, written to various people groups in all the epistles but the fact is, every word from Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22:21 was written for us and to us. In those pages is everything we need to know, in those pages is the person of Jesus Christ, by whom we are kept.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

You and You and You



But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town David a Savior had been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.” Luke 2:10-11

The other day I was listening to a modern version of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” and something stood out. In this particular version the singer sings the words, “He’s coming back for you and you and you and you….” As I listened I began to smile. I heard a very different voice, the voice of a young friend of mine who lives with a mild version of autism, among some other challenges. My little buddy fixates on certain songs or movies and repeats them over and over for a time before moving onto the next one. Right now one of the songs he loves contains the line, “You and you and you and well…..all of you!” See the connection?
While listening to the promise that Jesus, Emmanuel is indeed coming back for you and you and you, I thought of his willingness to come for us at all. We read in the Scripture that Jesus came to the Jews, to the people of Israel, but when they weren’t terribly accepting he opened his invitation to the Gentiles as well, i.e., the rest of us. Hallelujah!

He [Jesus] was born in a stable, in the cold, with no earthly celebration. There was however, great celebrating among the heavenly hosts. I had an occasion to assure a loved one the other day that heaven celebrates when one sinner repents. If heaven celebrates sinners, can you imagine the party thrown for its own precious, sinless Son? That reminds me of proud parents when their child does something, anything and the parents say, “Look, look, at him!” The angels tried to direct the spotlight and a few people got the message. That message wasn’t meant for a few, however, it was meant for many. It is an invitation given to anyone who will open his or her heart to receive it.

Jesus is coming back. I have no idea when and frankly, in my mind, it can’t be too soon.  We sing O Come Emmanuel and beg him to come “and ransom captive Israel.” Captive Israel has expanded to include all of us who believe.

Jesus is coming back, for who? For you and you and you and you and well……all of you (us).  We have no reason to fear, although the circumstances may look scary. Jesus is coming to take us home to the place that he has prepared for us, for all of us who accept the invitation. “O Come Emmanuel!”

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Miracle Babies


“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”
The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Holy Spirit will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son o God.”  Luke 1:34-35

Thirty-two years ago today I was as hugely pregnant and thrilled.  Throughout Advent I thought about Mary and her pregnancy. It was thrilling to think about my own baby, expected so close to the day we celebrate Jesus’ birth.  I was healthy and happy right up until the my own journey of labor, my twenty-eight hour, excruciatingly painful, journey. All of which was very worth the product, my son Paul.
Today Paul’s wife is expecting their first child. Her journey is a bit off from Mary’s as Paul is a January baby and my grandson, who I call “Silas,” as they are keeping his name a secret, is due in March.

There is however a huge similarity between Paul and “Silas,” even before our little man makes his appearance on this earth. They are both miracle babies. Of course neither of them has quite the spectacular story of baby Jesus but because of him, his sacrifice, his love for us Paul and Silas exist.

My son was born healthy and whole, only to suffer some trauma at five days old. That first day back in the hospital I was told Paul’s life was not secure, that he may well die. A few days later, five long, torturous days later, I was told that he would live but that he would have brain damage, irreparable, possibly serious brain damage. I was given a list of the things my son would most likely not do and that list was repeated to me several times over the next three years. He did them all and always ahead of the schedule on my American baby first five years timeline. Paul is a very accomplished young man, currently working on yet another advanced degree.  So much for brain damage.

A few years ago Paul and his wife were told that it would take some medical intervention for them to have a child. Paul, being Paul, began to plan for that. As is his way, he methodically arranged just how to approach the situation. Then God showed up.

When I got the phone call that they were expecting I was thrilled, for them, for all of us. What a miracle! Praise God! But it wasn’t until a bit later in communicating with my daughter-in-love about the baby that I realized, the miracle baby is having a miracle baby.
Doesn’t that just make you smile?

We live in a world where many people scoff at the idea of miracles. Ridiculous! The fact that we live, move, speak and breathe….. Miracle! But even if you take those things for granted, look around. There are miracle stories everywhere.  If you can’t see them, start talking to people. You may be surprised at how many people have miracle stories. As I write this there are names floating through my head, Madelyn, Jared, Ann, Heather, JJ….to name just a few.
Our God is a God of the great and the small. Take a breath and thank Him for the privilege. Then ask around and see who has a miracle story to tell.

 

 

Monday, December 10, 2012

Expectations


 

You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name, Jesus. Luke 1: 31

This morning I read a line in a devotional that really made me think. It said that the religious people of Jesus day had the attitude that the Messiah would get their allegiance when and if he fulfilled their expectations.  As soon as I read the words I expected a prick of guilt. Do I do that? Do I expect Jesus to meet my expectations?

Those questions made me laugh. I’ve had many reasons lately to take stock of all that God has done for me so far. I know what he is doing now and I have experienced the thrill of knowing that my future is in his hands. Do my expectations need to be met? No! Because they have been surpassed by miles and miles.

Looking around at my imperfect life, at my family, friends, job etc, I can see the myriad ways that Jesus has blessed me. There are people, things and experiences in my life that I couldn’t have asked for because they are beyond what I expected.

Jesus Christ and the simple, beautiful truth of his existence and his sacrifice, blow my expectations way out of the water.

Instead of guilt I felt pity. Pity for the people of Jesus’ days here on earth who didn’t get it and pity for the people of today who still don’t get it.  Jesus is not a means to an end, he is the end. He is the prize, the greatest gift, the biggest blessing. If he isn’t meeting your expectations then your expectations are wrong.

Having said that I will make the insufficient analogy of a young child’s visit with his grandparents.  This is the place where love is an absolute. He feels secure, accepted, desired but there is more.  In his grandparents house our little one knows that within reason, within the boundaries of safe and sane, he can have and do whatever he wants.  This is the place of ice cream sundaes not plain vanilla. This is the place of endless rounds of the current favorite game. This is the place where it seems that nothing bad can ever happen.

Now, multiply that by some huge number I can’t imagine and we’re getting close to who Jesus is to us. Having secured our place in eternity and taken abuse so that we can walk free, clean and healthy,  Jesus is not finished. He provides our ice cream sundaes, our ponies, and whatever else our hearts desire within the boundaries of safe and sane. He does not allow that which would put us at risk. He is our protector.

My heart breaks for the people who are waiting for something better, something more tailored to their expectations.  There isn’t anyone better.  All of our hopes, dreams, expectations and then some are answered in the person of Jesus Christ.  Amen!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Most Wonderful


 
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given and he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father and Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government there will be no end. Isaiah 9:6-7a

 
It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Every year at this time something prompts me to borrow that line from the much loved Christmas song of the same name. It is the most wonderful time of the year but not for the reasons the media would like to sell us. This is what liturgical churches call Advent. When I was a child I was very confused by the juxtaposition of Advent and the secular preparations for Christmas.

In our church Advent was a solemn time. We prepared for the birth of the baby Jesus. That should be happy, right? Yes and no. Are we happy that Jesus is being born? Yes but because we know his whole story, we know about Good Friday and we know the part we play in it. That casts the solemn light on things. For while we were still sinners that precious Christmas baby, grown to a very young man, died for us. It is the most wonderful time of the year.

It is! Not because there are red, green, gold and silver decorations everywhere but because in a stable a baby was born, a baby who would be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God and Prince of peace. (Isaiah 9:6) He would grow to tell us all that he is the vine and we are the branches and that without him we can do nothing. (John 15:5). It is the most wonderful time of the year.

It is, because we sing about and read about the obedience of a very young girl named Mary who carried that baby into this world. She did it knowing that this was no ordinary child. She did it knowing that she would face humiliation and possible punishment. She didn’t hesitate, as far as we can see from Scripture and her behavior is a beautiful example to us of the blessings that come through serving our Father in heaven. It’s the most wonderful time of the year.

It is because this time of year allows me and anyone else who chooses so, to live the Scripture, we love because he first loved us. (John 4:19 ) In a few days I will have the privilege of giving a gift that tells six people how much they mean to me and to God. Hopefully, they will see in that gift, that my love for them, constant and true as it may be, is sawdust when compared to the love of the Cross, the love that Jesus Christ has for each of them.

I will also spend time doing ridiculously messy but incredibly fun things with my grandbabies, another overflow of the love that is given to me by my Abba. It is indeed the most wonderful time of the year. “For unto us a child is born…. and he will be called Wonderful Counselor.” It’s the most wonderful time…………….