Monday, December 28, 2015

Return Another Way

I’ve made it through another Christmas. As an extreme introvert and a church secretary, the whole Christmas season can be challenging—Twice as much work to do in half the time, lots of people everywhere I look, and to quote the Grinch, “Oh the noise! Oh, the Noise! Noise! Noise! Noise!” But every year I look forward to it and join in on as much of the fun as I am able because, even though it can be difficult, it is so worth the moment I see my mother’s eyes light up when she opens the gift I spent two weeks making for her, receive a heartfelt hug from my niece or nephew, or talk over childhood memories with cousins I was too old to play with when we were young. And now that it’s all over, I can get back to my quiet, uneventful daily living with the warmth of new memories that make my face break out in a smile. Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? For a brief moment, I thought so too. But then I looked at the calendar board in my office and saw that Easter isn’t that far off!! 

I can’t help but to replay in my mind a line from Ann Weems poem “Holding” which was read at our Christmas Eve worship service just a few days ago:
On our way back from Bethlehem
sometimes we forget
what we’ve been warned about in a dream:
to return another way.

Looking forward to getting back to my quiet, uneventful daily living…isn’t that like returning the same way in which I went to Bethlehem? After traveling through Advent to the manger in Bethlehem where our God and Savior did the unimaginable, unexplainable, impossible feat of pouring himself into the confines of humanity as an infant—how can I go back to my daily life untouched and unchanged by what I have seen. “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” – which means, “God with us.” Matthew 1:23

I’ve gone to humble surroundings of a manger to see with my own eyes, worship, and give my gift to my God, my Savior, my King—Jesus. Even as I celebrated “God with us” I couldn’t overlook the shadow of the cross that fell upon the manger. God came to be with us, to love us, teach us, die for us, and live again for us. He came to save us and I can’t look at the babe lying on that hay bed without appreciating why he was among us – to redeem us and reestablish relationship with us.

The celebration of Christmas might be over, but God being with us doesn’t end and that’s what I want to take with me every day. As I head into the new year, I will journey away from Bethlehem with the intention of leaving by a different route than I came. Wherever I go, I know that God came into this world to be with me and he is with me.


Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Monday, December 21, 2015

Love Again

Originally posted in 2011....

Last week I was sure I'd have plenty to say about love. This week, I'm not so sure. It's just...what do I say about love that I haven't said already in my blog through the years. As I was thinking about what I've been writing over the years, this poem wrote itself:

What Can I Say about Love?
Love is a choice, 
a way of life, 
a sacrifice. 
It's a connection that can't be broken, 
a purpose, 
a light.
It's not about me and all about you.
It's your strength in my weakness.
It's a treasure 
and truth.
Love knows and accepts me 
for who I am
and inspires me to be better,
to be more, 
it's why I wake 
and what my heart beats for.
It's our greatest desire,
a need to give and receive.
It's a sharing, 
a gift, 
between you and me.
It's not just a feeling that warms our hearts
though warming it does
Love is going without that I may give
Love gives its own life that its beloved may live
Whatever you think love is
It's so much more
when our love is His
our lives redeemed,
our minds renewed, 
and our hearts restored.

The truth is that songwriters, poets, theologians and relationship gurus have been writing about love since the beginning and all of that writing together can’t really explain or define God’s love. Maybe God’s love isn’t something a human being can comprehend, explain, or describe. Maybe it’s just something we recognize and accept with open arms and thankful hearts. God’s grace is the greatest love story of all time and I am so blessed and humbled that He chose me to be a part of it. I pray you find yourself a part of this great love story as we celebrate the coming of the Christ Child, the fulfillment of a promise made in God's love and possible by God's grace, this Christmas.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Joy Again

This was originally posted in December 2011. I considered rewriting it because, while I will always feel a little melancholy this time of year because of my son’s absence, I don’t feel as sad as I did when I wrote it. In the end, I decided to keep it as I wrote it because it is the message of joy I hope to share today.

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At the beginning of the week, I had this whole blog planned out. I researched the traditions of the advent season – why three purple and one pink candle? Why some churches use all blue instead? When did the observance of Advent start and why? Why the weekly themes of peace, hope, joy, and love and which order do they really belong in because it seems to change year to year. Traditionally, this week’s theme is joy as you can see from the title. But to be honest, I don’t feel joyful. I feel completely opposite of joyful in fact.

I’ve been missing my son. My heart feels like someone has rubbed it raw with sandpaper and all I really want to do is hug Bryan. Tell him I love him and I miss him. I can’t seem to stop crying which really gets in the way of doing all the things I normally do. It’s too bad this week’s theme isn’t love….then I’d have something to write about. But how can I possibly write about joy when my heart is breaking.

Mercy Me sings a song called "Homesick" – the chorus has been running through my head a lot:  I close my eyes and I see your face. If home's where my heart is then I'm out of place. Lord, won't you give me strength to make it through somehow. I've never been more homesick than now. That’s exactly how I’m feeling right now – homesick for Bryan. I look around at all the Christmas decorations everywhere and I turn on the radio and hear all those familiar Christmas songs and instead of feeling joyful, I want to cry.

Why do I tell you this? It’s not to entice your sympathy.  It’s because I’m not the only one missing someone this Christmas and if you’re missing someone too, I want you to know you’re not alone. And because I really felt it was necessary to share where I am right now so that you understand that I really mean what I am about to say. It’s not a greeting card sentiment, but a truth to be taken to heart.

Today I asked God what I could possible write about joy in the middle of my grief. He surprised me with a simple but wonderful statement that renewed my mind, filled the pieces of my broken heart with hope and brought me comfort. He said that joy isn’t a feeling. Joy is an attitude and it is the way he has created me to approach each moment of this life. Even through my tears, I can still joyfully praise and serve and love the Lord. I can choose to joyfully anticipate the day of his coming when He will wipe every tear from [my] eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain…(Revelation 21:4) His joy is in me because the Lord Jesus came to bind up the brokenhearted, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve. He came to bestow on [me] a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. [I] will rejoice in [my] inheritance and everlasting joy will be [mine].(Isaiah 61:1-3, 7 selected)

So this coming week, no matter how busy or sad or frustrated or whatever else I become, I choose to rejoice in the Lord as I eagerly await his arrival – both the Christmas celebration of his birth and the great and wonderful day of his glorious return.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Peace Again

Originally posted in December 2011

Yesterday we lit the second candle of Advent, the candle of Peace. As I contemplated the word peace, I found I had a hard time defining it. At first I could only say what peace isn’t. For instance, peace is a lack of conflict in a person’s life, or a lack of war and aggression between nations. That didn’t seem right to me – that the whole definition of peace should be a lack of non-peaceful circumstances. While my dictionary offered little better, I did find a few words tucked away in a list of things peace isn’t that seemed to adequately define it for me – a state of security or order or mutual concord. It’s a subtle difference, but important because when I say out loud that peace is a lack of war and conflict, I don’t feel peaceful. But when I say that peace is a state of security, order, and mutual accord, a feeling of peace seems to surface.

So then I turned to my Bible to see what I could find on peace and I found many references, mostly talking about peace-offerings and the lack of peace or the return of peace in the Old Testament and lots of people greeting each other with peace in the New Testament. However, several lines of Scripture in the New Testament grabbed my attention and as I put them all together on one document to meditate on, I found this seamless message which I just had to share with you as I read it:

"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” (Lk 2:14) “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.” (Mt 5:9) “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” (Mt 10:34) “Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division.” (Lk 12:51) “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (Jn 14:27) “But a time is coming, and has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me. I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (Jn 16:32-33) For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in [Jesus], and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. (Col 1:19-20) Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. (Rom 5:1-2a) Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Phi 4:6-7)

On the night of our Savior’s birth, the angels announced this from the heavens: “On earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” Glory to God, who in his infinite love and grace, made peace possible between his own holiness and his rebellious creation. And praise the Lord for creating those he has called to bring his peace to a violent, sinful, suffering world.

At first you may think that Mt 10:34 and Lk 12:51 don’t belong, but they do.  Jesus tells us in Jn 14:27 that there are two different kinds of peace – the peace of man and the peace of God. Just as there is a difference in defining what peace isn’t as opposed to defining what peace is, there is a difference in the peace of man and the peace of God. Jesus did not come to bring man’s peace. No, Jesus brought disruption to man’s temporary security, order and mutual accord to make way for God’s everlasting, unfailing, miraculous peace.

In Jn 16:32-33, Jesus is talking to the disciples on the night of his arrest, but don’t we all have moments when we desert Jesus. Moments when we deny we know him and run away from his presence in our lives. So how wonderful is it to know that Jesus does not withhold his peace from us even when we reject him. Again, he speaks of trouble in this world – disruption, aggression, disorder, but in the same breath has assured us that he has overcome sin and the world and offers his peace to every person who will take hold of it.

Jesus was not and is not a messenger of God. Jesus is God incarnate, and as humans we will never be able to truly comprehend or explain it. But we can accept it with a childlike faith and find peace with him and in him through his selfless sacrifice on the cross and receive everlasting life with him in his resurrection. The peace we have with and in God through Jesus beckons us to cry out to him, to bring to him all our anxieties, our needs, and desires and his peace in us will stand in and against and overcome and outlast all chaos and disorder we find ourselves facing.

So this week as I look for God’s peace, I will be looking for the security that comes from knowing that Jesus is my Savior and God’s grace has redeemed me and brings me into the presence of the Lord with thanksgiving and praise, not in fear and under condemnation. I will be looking for God’s order in the chaos that is my life and the mutual accord that is between him and me and between me and his children throughout the world. No matter what I face this week, God’s peace is what I will seek and what I know I will find even amid the craziness of the Advent/Christmas season.