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Archive for December, 2012

bth_MarywithBabyJesus[1]Merry Christmas to a world that has rejected the Christ part and embraced the shallow commercialism. If you really listen I think this is what you might hear, straight from the words of One who wriggled in a lowly manger, hung from a wooden cross, and now does His Christmas shopping by wandering among the crowds purchasing broken toys at full price and making them new again.

He might tell us He was cold on the night of His birth. The night wind came through the cracks of the stable wall and caused His tiny body, slick from birth fluid, to shiver.  But His mother knew. She quickly wrapped Him in what was handy and held Him tight against her heart, pouring her warmth and comfort into Him.  It’s where He learned how to hold us.

He might tell us He was frightened when He became separated from His parents and found Himself in the temple answering questions and sharing with the priests. But when He looked up and saw His mother and father enter, He felt strong and valued and secure. It’s where He learned to never stop seeking us when we go astray.

He might tell us He was disappointed many times over when He poured His heart into the people, touching and healing, teaching and caring, and then watching them walk away to never look back in gratitude or love. It’s where He learned to give, and give and give with no thought of payback.

With tears He might tell us of the fickleness of Peter, the betrayal of Judas, the horrible death of His cousin, John. But then with great conviction and wisdom He would say it’s where He learned that the ups and downs of life cannot overshadow the reunions in heaven or the hearts that change and go on to do great things in the name of His Father.

Rubbing the scars on the backs of His hands, He might say the pain of the cross was more agonizing then He could ever have imagined but the joy of introducing each newly redeemed soul to God the Father is so blinding He can’t see the cross behind it anymore. It was on that cross He learned how to let go of life and truly live.

For sure He would say that walking daily in a world that rejects His father, deliberately misinterprets His Word, kills His children, abuses His brothers and sisters, and allows His arch enemy to pollute hearts, souls and minds until they believe they are on the winning side is enough make a Savior want to wash His hands of it all and call it quits.

But then He would say there are diamonds sparkling in the filth, just waiting to be pulled from the mire, washed with His blood and placed in the mighty hands of God to be shining examples of what Christ can do. He would say that I alone was worth it all.  He would say that you alone are worth it all.  He would say that no matter how deep a diamond is buried, no matter how evil the environment His holiness has to enter, no matter how hard and bloody the battle, the end result – a child restored, redirected, and reconnected shines so bright His eyes are blinded to all it took to get there.

It’s why He still comes despite the cold He will experience, the loneliness He will be subjected to, the rejection He has come to expect, the pain that will nearly cripple Him along the way. He still comes to shop for broken people because He believes the buy of the century is one who can be gently repaired and put back on the shelf brand new.

 “What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off?3 And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish.” Matthew 18:12-14

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MB900431278[1]Our Christmas program at church took place yesterday. It was filled with music, a little drama and a bit of narration to tie it all together.  I composed the narration and as I wrote in an earlier blog, I agonized over every word, praying it would be exactly right to bring people closer to Christ.

I want to share with you a piece of that narration I never could have known would have much deeper meaning in light of the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut.

To introduce the part of our program that emphasized the birth of Jesus and led into a touching rendition of “Isn’t He Beautiful”, I wrote the following:

What child is born that a mother’s heart doesn’t melt the moment she sees his squirming wrinkled body?   What long anticipated newborn comes into this world that a mother’s love doesn’t overflow in a flood of emotion?

The weight of carrying, the pain of labor – all forgotten in the moment of that baby’s first cry.  A mother’s heart swells and she is convinced at that moment that her child is more beautiful, more perfect, more amazing than any other.

Mary was no different than other mothers in that respect. But when she gazed upon the infant Savior, she was consumed with much more than motherly love.

Mary saw a miracle, a mystery,  a majesty far beyond anything she’d ever experienced.  And at that moment, this woman of grace exhaled her last normal oxygen filled breath, and inhaled a new life.

Never again would her lungs expand without the presence of Jesus filling them.

Never again would she speak without the experience of Jesus softening her words.

Never again would her arms reach out without the feel of Jesus in them.

And this is the same for each and every one who lays down the former life and embraces the Christmas miracle.

As those words were shared during the program Sunday, my heart rushed to the parents grieving for lost children in Newtown, Connecticut. A senseless, tragic, unimaginable few moments have left them shattered. There are no words of comfort that could ease their pain, no quote of scripture that will cause the tears to stop falling – at least for a time. Grief, while it may soften, will be their constant companion for the rest of their life.

But the words God gave me for that narration reminded me of what we take for granted every day.  We have nothing except what God gives. The people we treasure in this life are merely on loan, sent by God’s grace to enhance our experience. Mary certainly discovered the truth of this when she watched her Son die.

Here is a wonderful reality in a time of great loss.  The physical presence of a loved one is gone, but God makes sure the memories are left behind to carry us through our time of grieving.

Like the words in the narration, here is what those parents are left with.  They will never again take a breath without the presence of their child filling it, never again speak without the experience of their child softening their words, never again reach out their arms without the feel of their child filling them. The experience of a child, regardless of how short the time span, changes us forever.

Nothing justifies the evil that took those children away.

But God, in His great compassion, will not leave those mothers and fathers bankrupt. He is prepared to fill their emptiness, catch their tears, heal their hearts and gently care for their children until they are reunited in the moment He chooses to bring them together again. Let us pray that through the cloud of pain and grief, they can see the hand of God extended.

“He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” Rev 21:4

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 This morniMB900262644[1]ng I was looking out the large window of my office, watching eight deer forage for food under a light covering of snow. Graceful, beautiful creatures in a winter landscape worthy of a Christmas card cover.  I’m sure my face reflected the peace and sense of contentment the scene outside my window evoked.  Psalm 42 immediately came to mind.

As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God.” Psalm 42:1

Shattering that peaceful reflection just minutes later, I caught a news flash of the shooting at an elementary school in Connecticut leaving twenty seven dead, eighteen of them children. I am sitting here now with tears streaming and a million questions running through my head.  How can something like this happen?  How can anyone feel anger so deeply it would lead them to this type of action?  I’m so confused. And I find myself crying out to God. 

“Why, God?  How can you let something like that happen?  I get that we live in an imperfect world and I get that you never promisCed us smooth sailing or lives exempt from sadness or pain.  But this? 

I am thousands of miles away from the tragedy and I want to run out of my office, pull my own grandchildren out of school and shelter them forever. I don’t want them to have to grow up in a world so ugly and so evil.

I am furious at the 20 year old shooter, angry at whomever or whatever brought him to this point, and to tell you the truth – I am upset with God.  I want Him to turn back the clock, bring those children home tonight to the parents who sent them off to school this morning never dreaming what lay in store.  I want the world to stop hating and hurting people. I want the peace on earth that songs of this season harmonize about and that the Bible promises.

The hardest part for me is being lulled into a picturesque, isn’t it pretty, all is well state of mind when at that very moment unspeakable tragedy, chaos, and ugliness was taking place.  Where is the justice in that?

The rest of Psalm 42, when I take time to read it, speaks to my mood.

My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. Where can I go and meet with God? My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me all day long, “Where is your God?” Psalm 42:2-3

These things I remember as I pour out my soul: how I used to go to the house of God under the protection of the Mighty One with shouts of joy and praise among the festive throng. Psalm 42:4

Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. Psalm 42:5

This is a “yet I will praise Him” time for sure. I can’t make sense of what happened this morning, or for that matter on any given day when the world out-shadows the glory of heaven.

Sometimes I praise Him with joy so overwhelming it lifts me off my feet and threatens to rupture my heart muscle it is so powerful.

Sometimes I praise Him when I’m walking through a ho hum time, my emotions too lazy to cause a ripple on an ekg.

And sometimes, like right now, I praise Him even though I’m weighed down and weary with crying.  Even though I am crying out “Why”, I am still singing “How great Thou art”. When fear and doubt and anger and confusion play basketball with my soul, I choose to see myself on the winner’s bench with my Coach’s hand on my life and on the dysfunctional world in which I live.

My soul does long after you, God, more than it longs for understanding or explanations when horror happens. I am hungry for your touch, thirsty for your living water, and desperate for your strength and your love to help me overcome the battles of life is this harsh world.

Please join me in praying for the families who are living this latest tragedy, for a society where this type of thing happens all too often, and for each of us individually that we might be a healing salve in a mortally wounded world.

By day the Lord directs His love, and at night His song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life. Psalm 42:8

 

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As I put the finishing touches on the script for our church Christmas program I have been thinking about the responsibility that comes with writing.

In writing comedy, you have a responsibility to make people laugh. If you are writing non-fiction you have a responsibility to present accurate information.  If you are writing for small children you have a responsibility for making sure you help them fall in love with reading. If you are writing for middle grade you have a responsibility to help them grasp change and growth.  All writing, especially if it becomes published, carries with it the responsibility of applying your best to produce positive, lasting effect.

Writing a Christmas program should be easy.  After all, the Story is the story – angels, shepherds, camels and kings.  But still, every person in the audience is different.  They hear, perceive and observe in different ways.

A former church I attended used live animals in the Christmas pageant. I guarantee you that when the young children saw sheep they wanted to reach out and touch them. Adults worried about the mess on the carpet. Only the farmers in the crowd actually had thoughts of shepherds on a chilly night. 

Even a live baby in the pageant, while appealing to everyone, elicits different thought and emotion.  The women will feel the prick of tears, and the miracle of the birth.  Children will smile and see baby Jesus. Men will be stoic but at the same time feel the mystery.

I’ve been working on this narration and dialog for weeks and I can tell you I’ve had a few sleepless nights.   My passion is that it reach out and carry the beautiful, life saving message of a Savior’s birth in a way that no one can miss. I know there will be an audience comprised of long time Christians, new Christians and people who haven’t yet made a commitment.

All of them will walk in with their own private burdens. All will bring experiences into the sanctuary that will color what they see, hear and perceive.  Will it be enough to bring them closer to where they need to be?  Will it magnify the manger, add meaning to the message and glorify the God I serve? Will it speak convincingly to the one who has never heard the story before and at the same time be fresh and amazing to the one who has heard it a hundred times?

My fretting and worrying finally ended last night as I polished the narration.  God reminded me that the responsibility of this writer is to compose but it is His job to reveal. Mine is the task of arranging words and capturing thoughts in catchy phrases and colorful prose. His is the task of carrying those words on wings of love and compassion into the hearts and minds of His children. Mine is to retell what He has already written, to sing His praises and to express what I know beyond a shadow of a doubt – a Savior came in the dark and lit up the world. My Father will lift the writing to a level that only He can. Praise Him for His gracious gifting and His faithfulness in guiding us to use what He has given for His glory.     

For the Word that God speaks is alive and full of power ; it is sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating to the dividing line of the breath of life  and spirit, and of joints and marrow, exposing and sifting and analyzing and judging the very thoughts and purposes of the heart. Hebrews 4: 12

 

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MH900400203[1]These are the things I love about Christmas –

  • The music, subtle in the background but so familiar you don’t need to hear it well to hum along
  • The colors, poinsettia red and halo gold,  evergreen and shiny silver
  • The characters of Christmas, angels and elves, boisterous Santa  and gentle Jesus
  • The attitudes of Christmas, of giving and sharing, smiling and caring

These are the things I don’t like about Christmas –

  • The commercialism that says spend more, buy more in the spirit of giving
  • The frenzy that brings mothers to the end of their rope, children to wailing frustration, and shoppers to disregard people in pursuit of the perfect present
  • The element of crime, ever in pursuit of an unguarded purse, an unlocked door, a car full of packages with no one around to hear the shattering of glass
  • The pressure to break budgets, max out credit cards, outdo the other gift givers
  • The fact that love and good tidings will last for a few short weeks and be forgotten for eleven long months as the world gets back to its lonely, cold, cruel and selfish self

How will children ever truly feel the wonder and magic that comes with the sacrifice of burdened parents to put one very special gift under the tree when they have become accustomed to piles of packages and shelves overflowing with everything they ever had a whim for?

How will husbands ever burst with pride over a beautiful handmade shirt, created in secret moments behind closed doors, when their closet bulges with more of the store bought kind than they could ever wear in a lifetime?

How will wives ever appreciate simple searched out treasures that took time and effort and actual thought when they have at their fingertips all of the magical gadgets ever invented to lighten their load, clutter their counters and make a home cooked meal happen in a few minutes?

And most important, how will a weary world ever find the gentle arms of a loving, compassionate God when they shove His son into a cardboard box and store Him away until the stores stock their shelves once more with their pseudo signs of Christmas, reminding people it’s time to take Him out again?

Did Bethlehem walk away from the glow of the manger and get so caught up in the  dust and the demands of their daily struggle they forgot the miracle until the anniversary rolled around again? Did the shepherds go back to their grumbling existence, forgetting the brilliant light and heavenly song? Did the Kings let the fulfillment of prophecy fade from memory with each mile they traveled back to their homelands?

Why doesn’t the heart born of the beauty in the Christmas season stay full and fresh with the bounty of the Christmas message? Is our good news of a Savior not more powerful than all of the bad news of a world in trouble?

Yes! He is more powerful. His goodness outshines all acts of cruelty. His sacrifice overshadows all displays of selfishness. His love overcomes all hatred.

We can keep Christmas, the good and gentle and golden bits of it, in evidence every day all year long if we will challenge ourselves to carry the Christ child with us wherever we go. Don’t put Him away with ornaments. Instead, read His words every day, hang His star in every room of your home, take His love into loveless places, extend His kindness to the hurting, pray His presence into dark places, share His life saving message with the dying.

Never forget, it’s not the commercial driven world that determines at what point in the year to ring in the Christmas season. It’s the Spirit driven life that vows to keep the Christmas message ringing every day.

I pray you will store up the awe struck faces of the children, the soft glow of the lights as snow falls, the sweet scent of pine boughs, the tug of a familiar carol floating on the air, the touch of a loved one, the crackle of wrapping paper, the surprise and the joy and the wonder of the next few weeks and let them continue to inspire you for the next 345 days.

And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in Him.  1 John 4:16

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MB900423031[1]Here’s what I discovered in the month of November. There are limits to what I can accomplish. I am a chronic over-committer, over-achiever, over-estimator and over-just about everything else.

This past month it came to a head. Here’s what I had on my plate:

  • Full time plus job (and it’s open enrollment which means a steady parade of employees in my HR office, a plethora of paperwork, and a million questions to answer)
  • My commitment to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days.
  • Thanksgiving with all the pie baking, etc.
  • My birthday with lunches and meeting friends over coffee and family stuff.
  • Weekly practices with the Christmas choir.
  • Writing of the Christmas pageant.
  • Early Christmas shopping (I did black Friday!!!)
  • All my regular scheduled meetings, bible studies and worship activities.
  • Friends in crisis.
  • And – well – the rest I can’t remember because I am too tired

I think I’m getting old. My body doesn’t hold up as well as it used to and I hate to admit this but I get tired sometimes. There is nothing that gets my dander up more than sitting down in my chair by the fire and falling asleep immediately. I need some kind of device that sends an electric shock through my body the second my head nods.

Everything on my list is something I want to do, enjoy and never want to give up. Not only that, but there are even more things that I’d like to get involved in but to do them I’d have to give up sleeping all together.  It seems the days get shorter and what used to be plenty of time seems to have become never enough time.

Looking back my great regret is that I did not finish the novel.  I did get ten chapters and 20,000 words written.  I wrote from 4:00 a.m. until 5:00 a.m. almost every morning. I squeezed a few more minutes in here and there. I jotted handwritten notes in grocery lines and on my lunch breaks to transcribe later. But I just couldn’t get there. I feel bad about it because I seldom let myself fail to do what I’ve set my mind on.

So I’m using this blog to give myself a pep talk.

  • I didn’t finish but at least I started and it’s a really good start.
  • My novel is shaping up to be a good one.
  • I discovered that I can shake the cobwebs from my brain even earlier than usual (I usually don’t get up until 4:30 a.m. and then I spend fifteen or twenty minutes sipping coffee and letting my brain coast.)
  • The world does not end when you admit that you failed.
  • Life is too short to beat yourself up.
  • When I look at my list, the novel is the only thing I did not accomplish so that in itself is a pat on the back, right?

Writing is hard work. Work is hard work. Having fun is hard work. Ministry is hard work. Anything that you are committed to doing well is hard work.

There, I feel better.

So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.1 Cor 10:31

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