Starting With A Gray Smudge

ash wednesday:

Somewhere in my little girl, growing up years, I began to believe my Baptist church was “doing it right. I placed a high value on being “right,” in my faith, overlooking and often ignoring Jesus’s plea for righteousness through him.

And so that little girl mind of mine grew up with some pretty self-righteous thoughts about what the church should believe and do. And I was going along just fine, until I fell in love with a boy whose family was Methodist on one side and Catholic on the other. I wasn’t worried, the Methodists were ok. They had a fabulous midnight Christmas Eve service.

Anyway, I married that boy, and two years later sat in a hospital with his grandma. She didn’t always know why her Catholic faith did what it did, but she followed through with it.  And so, in my early twenties, sitting with grandma while her husband had surgery on an Ash Wednesday, I was cocky and pressed into the moment, all too smug to walk away with the answer I got – she didn’t know what the gray smudge on her forehead meant.

It only confirmed what I had thought about this faith that seemed to hold Jesus at far too far a distance. And wasn’t I doing much the same? I didn’t have answers for why I did nothing to prepare myself for the remembrance of my Christ. It had never been suggested, and if it had I clearly wasn’t listening.

This day would mark the day God began to do some heavy work on my heart that continues still. That day in the hospital with grandma made a small crack in the tarnished mirror that until then, had only reflected my “right” image.

God filled my years thereafter with beautifully varied women who taught me to respect and listen to those whose worship and adoration looked different, the subtle suggestion that I might find something I was missing in the listening. Slowly I awakened to the enormity of the Trinity.

Today, I’m gratefully sinking into a time of focus, of fasting and of prayer. Although not taught to, I recognize my need to join those ancient practices of traditions, recitations and rhythms. I’m becoming more fully aware how very wise and beautiful it is to be joined in unity with other believers, returning to God through the reading of the same text, during the same season, teaching me the power of repentance and forgiveness and rightness with God first, then with those God has placed with me on this earth. And it seems completely appropriate in this time of national division and confusion that those who call Christ savior and friend would remember him together.

So even if you don’t understand it all, you can start with something. You can start with a prayer to know God in a way you don’t right now. To notice someone that needs a little help and give it without expectation. To forgive and then to forget. To live simply for forty days and be surprised at how much lighter you are, focused on Christ with clearer thoughts, attention, and devotion to the only one who deserves it. Your submission to the ways of Christ will come a little easier. And while you will may find yourself in a similar place of forgetfulness a year from now, you will also remember the sweetness of communion with your Lord, his teachings and their familiarity, his washing of dusty feet, of breaking his body, pouring out his blood, for even this very day.

In this season of returning to God, let us remember him, together, one body, one spirit. Let us learn from each other, remembering Christ’s sacrifice for us all. Let us worship him in these days, undistracted and simple.

Although I’m not Catholic, I am observing Ash Wednesday as a starting place and the forty-plus days that follow. If you want to know more about how you can observe these days more fully, I’ve listed a few resources below.

For an additional article on why Christians should observe Lent:

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/markdroberts/series/how-lent-can-make-a-difference-in-your-relationship-with-god/

For a guide on the observance of the Stations of the Cross:

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/markdroberts/series/the-stations-of-the-cross-a-devotional-guide-for-lent-and-holy-week/

To experience a silent retreat during Holy Week with a printed guide to help you:

www.sustainablefaithindy.com/

In the waiting.

Reflections on 2 Samuel 24

Is your marriage not what you’d thought it would be? Do you have thoughts in your life of this isn’t fair?  Maybe your career hasn’t taken off like you thought it would or you’re still single and pictured yourself married and a parent by now. Maybe you’ve struggled with your own health or the illness of a child.  Maybe financially you’re still struggling and you are waiting for God to rescue you from it. Waiting for Him to make it better. Bring redemption. Bring the answers. Waiting on the Lord is tough stuff. I think it gets even harder as we become a society more and more set on instant gratification and dinner served in seconds shooting out of vending machines. We are a world of conveniences. Waiting is never convenient.

In today’s passage, we see David has been promised the thrown but he has to wait for Saul’s rule to end for the opportunity. Saul doesn’t like the idea of that and is literally hunting him to put an end to his life. You would think David would be doing the same so the victory promised him could begin. But he doesn’t. He is given the perfect opportunity when Saul unknowingly comes in to the cave where David and his men are and David spares his life. Why? God had told him he will reign. Here is what makes David different. He waited. He wanted his choice to be within the realm of God’s goodness. This is what sets him apart and why God called him a man after his own heart.

David desired to stay in the will of guide for his life. His life tells us he wasn’t perfect at it but he consistently tried. When we are in the waiting we tend to do several things. One, we take matters into our own hands. We get too impatient and we do things on our own. We rely on our own power, our plan, our drive. Secondly, our own desires blur the clarity of the will of God for our lives. It becomes about us. I’ve never been this happy or this feels so right. Finally, we begin to justify our choices when we confuse the coincidences of our lives with the will of God. I remember about 8 years ago I was offered a job I had only dreamed about. It was with a ministry I loved. It was something I had prayed for. It was doing God’s work. I was sure the opportunity would never come again. Yet I felt this tug in my heart. As I looked at the hours and the work it would require and the ages of my children and demands of my family, it became clear I would not be able to do both well. is word told me to put my family first. Not my own desire. Not my own satisfaction or happiness. It was really tough at the time. I felt defeated and like I would never have the impact I’d long for. I felt like God would never be able to use me outside of my home. But my faith told me He would. My faith told me He loved me and would use me. My faith trusted His sovereignty and His timing. It was not easy. Six years later that same organization came to me. This time with a position that worked with my family.  Flexible hours even. The desires of my heart aligned with His will.

In our scripture, David was able to wait on the Lord because of 3 main reasons.  One, he trusts the sovereignty of God. Two, he believes his unrelenting love for him. Third, David abides in the word of God. Those same three things are what I had to keep my focus on 8 years ago. It reminds me of a sermon I heard from The Summit Church in North Carolina,  “ The way to achieve the purposes of God is not by compromising the commands of God.”  Pastor Tim once said that God will not ever bring to your life something that is against His word.

Do you know how easy it would have been for David to justify killing Saul?  The thrown was promised to him. So many of us would have seen him walk through the hole in that cave and thought God had handed Saul to us on a silver platter. We may have even uttered the words, it was a God thing. That wife you know that’s been unhappy in her marriage, God did not bring that handsome, kind, flirting co-worker at just the right time. Satan did.  It’s not fate. It’s temptation. God doesn’t bring things to us that will take us from His purpose, His goodness, His word, His will. God’s will always aligns with His word. Always.

To wait on the Lord we have to recognize his unrelenting love for us. We have to trust His sovereignty. We have to ensure our hopes are in His word. Then we have to lay it at His feet and wait.

~Jen Harris

Faith of the Young

I envision a crisp day, similar to the 39 that had come before it. A day that was ripe with repetition. A day that impressed on all who lived through it a sense of impending doom. A time when men lived in fear of a giant spewing forth taunts, who imposed his will with brute force and fear. But I can also envision a very young man, who has firmly placed his life in the hands of his God. A young man who was very aware of the blessings he had received. A young man who chose to fight against the seemingly impossible, because of his faith.

The story of David and Goliath is one that is probably familiar with most people in America today, regardless of background. We are drawn to the tale of the underdog  time and time again. It is seemingly weaved into our DNA. But what I think is often missed within the essence of the story is that David’s faith is what wins the day. His trust in God sustains him. There are no attributes, with the exception of his faith, that would see him live through this ordeal. This is not so much an underdog story, as it is a suicide mission. So why are we, as a people, so drawn to it?

I remember as a child hearing the story of David and Goliath on a fairly regular basis. It was always told in such a way that it was easy to mistake David’s faith for bravery. In the land of individualism a man could always succeed if he was at least brave. The idea that the young man’s actions were centered  in his trust in God came much later in life. To be honest, I think that is how we see things most of the time. We admire character and integrity, bravery and wisdom in others or ourselves, often forgetting to attribute these blessings to God.

It has always struck me in this story that David chose not to wear the armor of the king. It didn’t fit. It was not his wear. So he moved forward as God had prepared him. He did not try to be something he was not, but instead trusted that God would protect him as he was.  I believe we often try on different armors to present ourselves to the world. These armors often don’t fit, but when we shed them, give thanks to God for making us as he has, entrust our lives with him, and move forward to bless those around us, we thrive. We seek to live as God has always intended for us to live.

It is at this moment in David’s story that we marvel at his faith. We pray that we would have a faith like his that would allow us to conquer fear and bless others in the name of God. But his story doesn’t end here. In fact it is just the beginning. God continues to bless David throughout his life. David sins but he repents and returns to God. It is in his repentance that we see just how deeply his life is intertwined with God. And we marvel still.

I struggle sometimes teaching my daughter about these topics. Pride makes it very easy to take credit for work ethic rather than explaining the why of blessing. In trying to explain these sometimes extremely complicated ideas to a six-year-old I always fall back on the truth that everything we are blessed with is from God. He has blessed us with these things to in turn be a blessing to others. We entrust God with our life because he has given us life in Jesus. She often reminds me that she knows these things with her words and actions, while it is I who tends to forget.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Where We Are Meant To Be

compassIn Christ there is no east or west, in Him no south or north, but one great fellowship of love throughout the whole wide earth.

 John Oxenham

It’s a wonderful thought isn’t it?

This great fellowship of love stretching itself around the world, making loops and crisscrossing the globe, touching everyone.

It’s true. This is the way of Jesus, his love finding us wherever we are, there being no place where he is not. His red blood dripping down on us, into us. We embracing it and saying, “Hallelujah! I’m saved!”

And then what?

Because Christ restores the peace between God and us, we now go and, “…are Christ’s ambassadors…” to this message of reconciliation and peace, (2 Corinthians 5:20).

And some of us will go and tell, unable to hold back such a beautiful ministry of reconciliation. But for others, it will be uneven road, because while we are forgiven and reconciled, we have much to forgive and reconcile with each other. This world is filled with high rocked walls of entitled rights and petty preferences, abuse and forgotten-ness. Yes, even the church looks like this.

What can we do? Perhaps pick up a sledgehammer and destroy it? That would do it, a glorious rubble at our feet.

But just as we know what will happen when we swing that heavy handled, forged metal overhead, letting it fall, we also know what will happen to us.

We’ll be exposed. Our truth we be told, that we hold on to our self-created, small and shallow hearts.

But Jesus sees how deep he’s made us. He sees the capacity he’s given us to love like him, to forgive seventy times seven, to turn the other cheek, to go and tell the world about what he’s done for all of us.
It’s a hard, handled thing to reconcile. It’s pride-draining. It’s red-faced vulnerability. It’s looking past our perceptions, into eyes that Jesus sees and saying, I love you anyway. It’s taking the long way, with shaky knees and sweaty palms to be reconciled in truth, one to another, opening the way to share what Jesus has done.

Jesus restores the peace. He reconciles us back to God. It is where we are meant to be.

It is where we are meant to be with each other, all people, everywhere.

We have miles to go, to the east, west, north and south, making amends with each other and telling how Jesus saved us. But for those who have uttered, “Hallelujah! I’m saved!,” it is our charge, to love and be restored to God’s creation, and be sent to proclaim it across the whole wide earth.

He dwells here.

2-corinthians-13_5The Holy Spirit. The all too forgotten component of the Christian life. Maybe because it’s the unseen. Maybe because grasping the concept feels a lot like an adult trying to understand Minecraft. Maybe because as earthly beings we feel a bit whackadoo talking about a spirit or other dimension to this life. But oh how real it is. If we, as believers, could understand and embrace the Holy Spirit, I believe our world would be blessed in abundance. When we operate from the place of the Holy Spirit in us, instead of our own desires, urges, needs…we look like Jesus. He is present in us. He changes things. Not us.

 2 Corinthians 4:6-7  “ For God, who said, “Let there be light in the darkness,” has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ.

 We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure.  This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves.”

It is a common rhetoric to hear that God is being removed from our schools, our government buildings, our social climate. If that is the case, it is our fault. They cannot remove God from me. He is God with us. We are promised the power of the Holy Spirit. At all times. So if God isn’t present in my school, at my work, in the grocery checkout line, it is because I did not allow Him to work through me. It is because of my own disobedience or lack of knowledge that He is within me. I understand the comfort that seeing the Ten Commandments may bring or a cross on a Christmas tree or the outrage it stirs in your heart if someone wants to take it down, but do not mistake a symbol of Christianity for the ever present love of Jesus. And if the love of Jesus is absent from the life around us, we need to ask ourselves some serious questions and quit pointing fingers.

“If we’re going to impact our world in the name of Jesus, it will be because people like you and me took action in the power of the Spirit. Ever since the mission and ministry of Jesus, God has never stopped calling for a movement of “Little Jesuses” to follow him in to the world and unleash the remarkable redemptive genius that lies in the very message we carry. Given the situation of the Church in the West, much will now depend on whether we are willing to break out of a stifling herd instinct and find God again in the context of the advancing of the Kingdom of God.”  Alan Hirsch, The Forgotten Ways

My husband works in manufacturing facility and when he started his career there 14 years ago, he was amazed at the crass language he commonly heard and how generally people spoke to and about one another. I have been with my husband for over 23 years and have never heard him say a cross word about a single person and never heard him curse. Never. In 23 years. Stubbed toe? Nope. Idiot in traffic? Nope. Nail to the thumb? Not then either. Not that I think everyone cusses but I do think most people have let one fly here or there once in their life. Anyway, I digress. We would pray that He could represent Christ in the way he carried himself. That the Holy Spirit would work through him. And he did. Gradually the conversations around him began to change. When his staff would come to him to complain about another he would ask if they had spoken to that person about it first. When another manager started cussing in frustration over a project, my husband told him that he was happy to talk with him when he calmed down and was respectful. Then he simply walked off.  Sometimes my husband is blissfully naïve to the reactions around him. When he told me what he’d done, the reactions played like a short film in my head. Some ending in tragedy and other’s comedic. He would ask his employees about their family, encourage and support them. He treated them like they mattered to him. The point is, the way my husband carried himself, with the presence of the Holy Spirit, led by the Holy Spirit, in those instances and others changed the environment around him. Each of us have that power. Each of us, through the power of the Holy Spirit, have the ability to impact the world around us.

I am the mother of 5. My mood sets the tone in my family. Sometimes it doesn’t feel fair and is burdensome but what a responsibility God has entrusted to me. The days I allow the Holy Spirit to lead me are the days we work well. The days there is joy in my home, love, patience, goodness.  The days I do things on my own, out of my emotion, mind, my own free will…the result is what some might call #momfail. I cannot love my family well depending on my own faculties. I have to tap in to the power of the Holy Spirit. I have to be in prayer and tuned in.  My children will not have a relationship with God because they saw their Dad study the Bible or because we forced them to church every Sunday. They will not love God because of the lecture we give or because they aren’t allowed to watch R movies. They will love God, they will know God because they felt Him in our home. Because they saw the Holy Spirit filter in forgiveness, redemption, mercy, grace, love.  Not because their parents are good. Because God is good.   “In a very real and sobering way, we must actually become the Gospel to the people around us-an expression of the real Jesus through the quality of our lives.”   Alan Hirsch,  The Forgotten Ways  

It is impossible to watch the news and not feel an overwhelming sense of sadness and absence of Jesus. Don’t even start to read comments on social media to any news article or you will lose faith in humanity for sure.  It may scare you or even anger you. I get that. But friends, we are the answer. We are God’s plan. Christ in us is the hope of the world. It is up to us. If we want Jesus in our world, we better bring Him. Colossians 1:27 “ To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. The Holy Spirit is alive in you. He dwells here. Allow Him to get to work. Our world depends on it.

 

~Jen Harris

Other scripture studied:

Galatians 2:20  My old self has been crucified with Christ.[a] It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Ephesians 3:17  Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong.

 

Balance in the Whole

At the dawn of a new year one has a tendency to make resolutions and set goals. These resolutions or goals seem to always focus on an aspect of our life that we felt like we were lacking in during the previous year. We may place a spotlight on one part of our lives with the hope that one thing will bring about the enrichment of our lives as a whole. This is not a bad thing. Often a goal in one branch of our life does bring growth in others, but it can also leave us shortsighted and un-balanced. It can be like a body-builder who only trains their upper body. In the end you get the massive arms with chicken legs. I believe when we strive for balance in all aspects of our lives we truly begin to see amazing results. This is especially true in our relationship with God and his church. We each have a unique gifting but when we focus solely on that we cease to grow in other areas. We lose sight of God’s entire perfect vision for his church and we break it down into smaller departments and pieces. We can miss the forest for the trees.

In the very early stages of my coming to know Christ it became very easy to inadvertently define the process by focusing on certain things that I needed to do in order to become a good follower. I needed to pray more, stop doing certain things, read my bible as much as I could. And while these are good things on the surface they missed the true meaning of knowing Jesus. The why aspect was very vaguely understood but never completely grasped. These are the things that a Christian does so this is what I must do to know God. A Christian spends time in prayer and reads their bible. They help others and tell them about Jesus. Some day they eventually go on a mission trip. Looking back, it was a very compartmental, extremely basic surface level understanding of what a Christian is. Later thanks to the grace of God I gave myself to Christ and the faint surface level understanding began to fade away. This new living relationship put the pieces together. All of these conditions were pieces of the whole. The understanding came from knowing that I was loved so much by God that he gave his only son. That I could walk with God because I had been reconciled through Jesus. That missions, prayer and bible study weren’t simply departments within the church but an all-encompassing relationship with our creator.

Paul speaks of this exact reconciliation in 2 Corinthians  5:17-19.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.

The old has passed away; behold the new has come.

All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave

us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ 

God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses

against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.”

The message, vision and hope of the church is within these lines. God the father has propitiated us through Christ. Our relationship with Christ is a blessing of reconciliation that becomes our mission to the world. It is our way of life. The small pieces of the whole come together and begin to fit together supporting each other. We no longer simply look at different aspects of our relationship with Christ we see the relationship as a whole.

This follows in our church life as well. We no longer only focus on the separate aspects of the church but we see it as a whole. Each piece fitting together supporting each other to reflect God’s message of reconciliation to the world. We find our balance not in looking at the pieces, but in looking at the whole.

Embracing our Story

We are about to enter a New Year. And there is a temptation to treat this as a blank page, completely re-writing our stories. We want to shed all that makes us ashamed and seek after that which might make us more confident. And while it is good to start fresh and new, and I am certainly planning on doing so, how can we enter into this year while embracing where we are and how we got here? 

I was asked to blog this weekend, and it ended up being the same weekend that my husband Tom was scheduled to preach. I started this post while on a retreat in July, and since it ties in to Tom’s message, I decided to edit and post it for the blog. Below is a snippet of our infertility and health journey. I pray that it helps you contemplate and feel more comfortable within your own story.

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It was 2008, and we were living in Pasadena, California. Our ministry in Texas had fallen apart, and we had moved to California so Tom could attend Fuller Seminary. Everything had fallen into place with our move, but I was still bitter. Bitter that our friends back in Texas were able to carry on with their lives while we had to start from scratch. They were able to settle down and buy houses within a familiar community, while half my paycheck was going toward the rent on our tiny lopsided home on Rio Grande Drive. This wasn’t supposed to be a part of our story; our dreams had foreseen something different. I now think back fondly to our precious little house on that sunny street, but it wasn’t the story I would have written for myself.

Rio Grande Drive, Pasadena, California

We were walking through the mall one day, and Tom said to me, “If I can’t lose this weight, I think I should have weight loss surgery.” This irritated me, because of course he would lose the weight. He was strong and disciplined and he was excelling at his classes at Fuller. Of course he could figure out a way to lose the weight! And so I responded with something I knew would affect him in the same way his statement had affected me: “I think we should see a fertility doctor.”

It worked. Tom was sure we didn’t have fertility problems. We hadn’t been trying very long, we weren’t even really trying– we were fine. But just like he knew that weight loss would require more than diet and exercise for him, I knew we weren’t going to get pregnant easily. Yet neither of us were willing to admit that this sort of medical intervention would be part of our story.

Tom and me in Santa Monica, 2011

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In February of 2015, we had our daughter, Abbie, the result of a year of fertility treatments. And the next month, Tom underwent gastric bypass surgery. As he was about to go under the knife, he wasn’t concerned about the fact that most of his stomach and about a foot of his large intestine would be cut away, he was just worried that it wouldn’t work. What if this was just like all the other diets, the diets that, despite our initial optimism, only got him so far in his weight loss journey?

Tom and Abbie

But 230 pounds later, Tom is now training for his second half marathon. In November, he ran the Monumental with team World Vision and actually enjoyed it. While he trained for it, we would load Abbie into the jogging stroller and go on a family jog (or GOG, as Abbie calls it). And as we jogged, I would think about how impossible this would be without the medical intervention we received. We are jogging with our daughter!

Monumental Half Marathon

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While we hope our stories will be more simplified and our miracles more instantaneous, they often aren’t. Tom and I have not entered many life stages with ease, and I am often jealous of those who seem to breeze through life, easily obtaining what we climb over mountains to find. And yet our story has made us who we are. We are very different people than we were in 2005 when we married, wiser and more refined, more hesitant to claim the answers to every problem. Our story has shaped us into more compassionate people, more attuned to the struggle and suffering around us.

Our stories never feel as refined or beautiful as those around us, but they are our story. A story meant to be lived and embraced and shared. And I want to wear my story well. I want to sit in it and know it and be comfortable in it. And I want to be able to hear other stories and receive them with joy and grace, without feeling the need to compare them to my own.

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It’s often not until we embrace our story that we can find our redemption. I pray that we would all embrace our place in life and strive to do our best with the tools we’ve been given. May we begin this new year in a state of willing receptivity to all He has prepared for us, embracing both our past and the possibilities for our future.  

He Shall Be Called…Prince of Peace

Peace. A state of mutual harmony between people or groups. The normal nonwarring condition of a nation, groups of nations or the world. State of tranquility or serenity.

xmas-star-peace-on-earthThat certainly doesn’t describe the state of the world I see. War upon war, rape, genocide, the slaughtering of innocent men, women and children all in attempt to fill an insatiable lust for power. Aleppo. The images, too much for the human heart to bear. We were not meant for this. The prophet Isaiah prophesied that peace would come. The Jewish people longed for it. Jesus offers it. Our world is desperate for it. So, where is this peace, where is peace for Aleppo, where is peace for the abused, where is peace for the persecuted? Where is the peace for the average joe trying to provide for his family while taking financial hit after financial hit? Our desire for peace in a turbulent and violent world can leave us confused and frustrated. But God is always with us and he is faithful to help us walk with him and trust him when we are disheartened by the rampant evil around us. We will not find peace in the things that are seen. No, we find peace in the shadows of the things unseen.

There is a tension between the peace Jesus talks about and the lack of peace that is experienced in our broken world. This tension exists because our King is present but not fully crowned and only part of God’s peace is available to us in the present. By faith, because of what Jesus Christ has done for us, we have been made right with God. (Romans 5:1)  This is the peace that we get to experience on the present earth. We know that while things around us are not as they should be, it truly is well with our soul. But there is another element of Jesus’ peace that will be realized as God’s Kingdom advances and is fully consummated at some point in the future. This is the peace that promises a full restoration of all creation, a future time when the world will enjoy the harmony it had before sin entered.

In my own personal walk with Jesus, I am discovering another layer in celebrating Advent and Christmas. God is teaching me to celebrate the Incarnation as an event that marks the arrival of a Kingdom that is in the process of being fully consummated.  He is teaching me a hopeful anticipation of a coming Kingdom reigned by a Righteous Judge who will rule the nations justly. A time when nations will no longer war against one another, but will live in peace. (Isaiah 2:4) This Prince of Peace will not stop until justice prevails throughout the earth, even the most distant lands will wait for his instruction. (Isaiah 42:4) At this time, even the animal kingdom will be completely transformed and restored as sins’ curse is removed. (Isaiah 11:6) There will be no sickness and no more pain.  A glorious future is, indeed, in store and Christmas is the perfect time to reflect on this future. It is in these kinds of reflections that I find hope and peace for the refugee, the sick, the imprisoned, the hungry, and hurting. Everything is not okay as it is right now, but I believe in Jesus’ promise that someBlueNativitySceneday, it will be.  This is part of the peace alluded to in the message of Christmas.

As we reflect on the name Prince of Peace, do not loose heart that all is not peaceful in our world but rather take courage and hope in the peace that will surely come. As Christ’s ambassadors we have a responsibility to advocate for peace in our own little corners of the world. I love the Jewish word Shalom. It is a packed word that has to do with a sense of wholeness, fullness, peace and harmony. Because of Christ’s power and love in us, our lives can be a healing salve of Shalom to a hurting world. As we near the end of the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season, take some time to slow down and savor the goodness of the Lord’s promise to bring peace. Let the reality of what is to come sink in a bit. If we allow that promise of peace to form how we invest our time, money, and hearts, we can join in God’s restorative work in the world. I cannot think of a better way to celebrate the birth of Jesus than to commune with Him, enjoy Him and join Him. May you be blessed this Christmas season with His love and comfort. I pray that as you are filled with his wonderful Spirit, you would be moved to join God in his restorative work as you seek to bring God’s love and peace to those around you.

Merry Christmas

Tracy

 

And He Will Be Called…Mighty God!

There’s a picture of a castle on my desk. I visited this place a long time ago. It makes me think back to stories I’ve heard about kings and queens and the mighty men who pledged allegiance to fight and protect their leaders and their country.

Images of might remind me of Braveheart and Gladiator and someone tall and strong, with bulging muscles, standing, one foot slightly in front of the other, ready to run toward the fight. A face, fixed with determination, eyes clear and focused, even as evil circles all around. There is only one thing to do: run to the danger, moving quickly and forcefully. And in the end, when all seems lost, a victorious warrior emerges, the battle won, the enemy defeated. This kind of might would do nothing less than die for what is right, for honor, and for the protection of others.

These are stories from long ago, and it seems as though that’s where they’ve stayed; in the ancient past.

It seems hard to find, someone who is truly willing to fight for us, for what is right and good and pure. It seems much easier to see those who are looking out for themselves, for their own good, whatever it takes. The fight looks different these days, not with sword and stone but with guns and bombs. Yet, we fight about the same things: preferences, ingnorance, power and inequality.

These are the battles that make our news feeds and the headlines. But some of us are in emotional battles that seem even more overwhelming than the physical.

The good news? We have our Mighty God, Jesus.

He is the One who is ready, one foot in front of the other. He is the One with a clear and focused view of us and all the evil that surrounds. He is the One who moves with force, relentlessly pursuing until the battle is won.

Can you see him? He is our warrior, our champion, our hero. He is relentless in the fight for us. He simply won’t ever stop coming for us. He is our Mighty God.

Take time to stop and look for your warrior, the one who is on your side. Take time to lay your battles down and let him fight for you. Take time to notice him championing your day, your family, your life. He’s there, fighting for you in everything.

And although Jesus’ story is from the ancient past, it never grows old. He’s continually teaching us something that is brand new. Look! Our Mighty God has already won the battle, and he longs to see us emerge, victorious, standing beside him.

Our Wonderful Counselor, our Everlasting Father, our Prince of Peace, our Mighty God.

Prepare the Way of the Lord

As we enter the Christmas season I always seem to enter a more reflective state of mind. It is common to look back at the year that was and wonder, have I lived a life centered around God? Have I served those around me well, but better yet have I served Jesus well? More often than not, for me the false steps seem to stick out. Failures may float to the forefront of our thought but we are also given glimpses of the times when Christ was most brightly reflected in us. We are energized by the times when Christ seems the most alive in our lives and reminded of his goodness and grace. We are encouraged to go deeper seeking more of God in every way. Rather than growing discouraged in our mistakes we are able to turn to His word and see the promise fulfilled time and time again amongst his people. We are awakened once again to a season of hope and promise, buttressed by a history in scripture that speaks to truth, and we begin to prepare for the coming King.

If left unchecked, I can tend to be a little short-sighted in my thinking from time to time. Forgetting the outcome of a situation in the fairly recent past often hampers trust and a willingness to move forward if we are not careful. It is when we stop and think to the ways that God has answered prayer in our lives that our resolve is strengthened. But we also see God’s promises kept and answers to prayer throughout the entirety of scripture. The countless stories and prophesies that came to pass help to grow our faith. These prophesies and the love letter that is the Bible as a whole help to grow our faith in the one who created them. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the many prophesies that speak of the coming Christ in the book of Isaiah.

In Isaiah Chapter 40 we see words that serve as a distant precursor for the words used by John the Baptist. “A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” Isaiah 40:3   John knew what he was saying. Every time I read these words I am reminded of God’s promise to provide a way back to him. I am reminded to always be prepared for what he would have me do. John the Baptist prepared the way for Jesus by calling for repentance and baptism of the Jewish people. The prophets of the old testament repeatedly spoke of what was to come to prepare the people for the coming of Christ. So how do we prepare the way for Christ’s return? As we celebrate his birth, we focus on just what his birth, life, death and resurrection mean. The hope that it brings for all mankind. We share this hope with others. We serve as he served. We forgive as he forgave. We try to love others as he has loved us. We attempt in many small ways to bring just a small fraction of the joy Jesus has brought into our lives. We run to him and prepare our hearts for his birth.

My favorite time of day is when I return home from work on day shift. Most days, as soon as I open the door leading from our garage I hear the word “daddy” shouted that signals that a very lanky little girl has already begun to leap towards me so I have less than a second to get my arms out to catch her. This is followed by a waddling little man with outstretched arms and a big toothy grin. That is how I want to always respond to Christ. I want to always be ready for him at any moment.  I want to always be prepared.