Monday, December 29, 2014

A New Year's Journey

Reflecting on the REASON OF THE SEASON over each day of Advent was a great exercise FOR ME. By Christmas Day, my heart was full.  By Christmas Day, I had explored Jesus' birth through many different lenses. By Christmas Day, I was truly ready to WoRsHiP. The daily diving into the Christmas story was particularly meaningful, since this was the first Christmas, we (as a couple) celebrated the blessed day, truly alone... What a great way to keep perspective of the extraordinary meaning of the Holy-Day! Here comes the exception to this: The act, itself, wasn't easy - it stretched my small brain! Call me lazy, but I'll be glad to get back to one thought a week (on Monday), as opposed to one a day!

In typical fashion, at the end of each year, I've been pondering the past months. As is usual, I'm setting some goals for 2015. One of the goals I've established for my soul-growth, actually sprung out of something I took note of over this holiday season. In the midst of commemorating the greatest miracle of all time, I found my inner JOY ebbing and flowing (note, I'm talking JOY, not happiness). There was a definite "high tide" and "low tide," as it seemed to rise and fall at random, unexpected times with nothing instigating the change. It has come to my attention, that inwardly (in this arena) I'm extremely inconsistent. With this in mind, my focus, my word-for-the-year, is JOY.

I'm on a new quest; I'm packing my bags with the tools necessary to go on a JOY-Hunt. I'm quite aware it's not illusive. I am a true believer, it is meant to be had, and to be held, not just as needed, but at all times. I've some idea where it is found. I know where I'm starting the journey, and I pretty much believe I can see the destination's end. It's just the in-between places, where I'll stop along the way, that are a bit sketchy. So as of today, this will become a travel-blog, of sorts. Honestly, I can't wait to see the places I will go in this year. I've never been extremely adventurous, but this is an adventure I desire more than any on which I've ever been.

The beginning pin has been dropped. Here is where I will start:

You make known to me the ways I should go, the path of life; in your presence is satisfying joy, full delight; at your right hand are perpetual pleasantries! 
Psalm 16:11

I am curious where this journey will lead!

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Advent Thought #26 - Christmas Day

It's Christmas. Jesus Christ, the Savior-WITH-us, has been born. Simply reflect on these following truths today. Read them over and over. Let them soak deeply into your heart. Remember who, what, and why!

Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited and redeemed His people; He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David.

He will be...Immanuel.  The Word (who) became flesh and dwelt among us...full of grace and truth!
In Him was LIFE, and that LIFE was the light of men...

Because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the SUNRISE shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.

Indeed, my eyes have seen your salvation...a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to Your people Israel. 

(Luke 1:68-69; Matthew 1:23; John 1:14; John 1:4-5; Luke 1:78-79)


The Word became flesh...
He was the light
That could not be overcome by darkness.
The light to guide our feet
Into a peaceful way.
My Salvation (me, a Gentile)!
My Redeemer.
My Glory.
My Sunrise!

Thank you, God my Father, Jesus the Son & sweet, tender Spirit of my Living Lord-
In humble reverence
I worship You!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Advent Thought #25 - Christmas Eve

This morning, I've been thinking about all the complications surrounding the birth of Jesus. Just think with me -

Mary was pregnant out of wedlock.
She was under threat of stoning.
Hanging over Mary's head was the question of whether or not Joseph would believe her, divorce her, or throw her to the wolves to be judged and executed...
Joseph had to wrestle with the same question, then when he thought he'd finally decided....
Joseph was asked to sacrifice his reputation to take Mary home as his bride.
The gossip they endured because of this alone was severe, but add to that the curiosity that raised people's eyebrows when Joseph and Mary claimed the child was "born of the Holy Spirit, would save people from their sins, and was, in fact, the long-expected Messiah..."
In Mary's last days of pregnancy they had to make a long, and unplanned trip to register for tax purposes, along with a huge crowd.
There was no easy way to travel, so they went by donkey.
Along the way, Mary went into labor.
We think the lines at the grocery store are long this time of year - I can't imagine the lines in Bethlehem that year with everything recorded by hand in the "old-fashioned" way.
There were no rooms available, no doctor or mid-wife, no epidurals or pain meds, only straw, the undercurrent of noisy barn-animals, and a feeding trough.
Once the child was born, they were forced to move frequently, literally overnight, as the result of angelic-sleep-interrupted dreams.
Their lives were in danger - often.
Baby boys two and under were slaughtered as King Herod tried to wipe out the potential political threat of another King who might usurp him (Mary and Joseph had to feel the weight of that horrific event).
All this to say, Jesus' birth-story was not easy for his earthly parents. 
Even by the time Mary & Joseph reached the eve of the birth of God's Son, it had been difficult enough. I wonder then - just what was running through their heads? I'm thinking I'd be screaming, "I didn't sign up for ALL THIS! I take it back! I'm not your woman!"

HOWEVER...I expect, even in their humanness, this was not the response from this young couple. I imagine they had to be doing, just what we need to be doing, when life is hard, confusing, unplanned, and the road ahead extraordinarily foggy: they were remembering. (My soul is cast down within me; therefore I remember...Psalm 42:6b)

Remembering angels sent from God.
Remembering God-words.
Remembering dreams and visions, too real to be made up.
Remembering validations from godly fore-runners (such as Zechariah and Elizabeth) who supported them with affirmation.
Remembering prophecies of the Old Testament scrolls - the Words of God literally coming true before their eyes.
Remembering unexplained open doors, protection, and provision.

I expect, even in their humanness, they were doing exactly what we should do amidst the difficulties of life: they were looking forward with hope. (Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why in turmoil within? Hope in God...Psalm 42:11)

Looking forward to new life.
Looking forward to watching the unfolding of God's plan.
Looking forward to being a part of a future of freedom, peace, and leadership
Looking forward to being a part God's intentional purpose.
Looking forward to God-with-them their hope of glory.
Looking forward to a coming salvation...even their own!

I expect, even in their humanness, they were doing exactly what we should do when life catches us by surprise and takes our breath away: they were clinging to every little blessing they could tangibly see. (Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to Him, and bless His name! Psalm 100:4)

The blessing of being on a journey together.
The blessing of understanding and knowing they were a part of something bigger than themselves.
The blessing of provision.
The blessing of insight, wisdom, and direction.
The blessing of shepherds showing up at their door, even unannounced, to remind them they were still in the middle of God's Great Unveiling.
I can just hear them counting and re-counting all God had done and was doing day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute to take care of them...

This Christmas eve...these are the gifts I desire to unwrap. Three gifts: 1) remembrance of God's faithfulness, 2) hopeful forward-looking, and, 3) an attitude of gratitude.

Above all...May I take away the obvious fact, God is still at work all around me, even when things seem a little (or a lot) dim.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Advent Thought #24 - December 23

Some nativities include the wise men who traveled from afar to visit the young child, Jesus.

Really, these figures don't belong near the manger. I suppose if I were to be correct, I'd place them across the room somewhere. I don't know when they first saw the star, announcing the birth of the King of the Jews, but Jesus was almost, if not, two years old before they arrived. Another thing, we don't really know for sure, is that there were just three of them. There could have been 300...Scripture doesn't make it clear. We simply know they gave the little King three gifts. And, they weren't really Kings, they were "wise" men, smart men, knowledgable in the sciences, the study of the stars, agriculture, mathematics, as well as, political and religious information.

These "wise" men had been around since Daniel's day (see Daniel 6), and had probably come from as far away as Babylon (currently the area around Baghdad). Undoubtedly, they had been greatly influenced in Judaism, and possibly had benefitted from the legacy and prophecy of Daniel, himself. Other than this, we don't know a lot about these men...they were strangers on the scene, but strangers who rattled the courts of King Herod, and all the chief priests, for sure!

And, yet, come they did, and a very long way (out of their way) just to see this special child and worship Him! We can learn much about worship from these men. In fact, all I really know about the wise men is how to experience true worship!

As we wind down the Advent season, this is a perfect time to contemplate our worship of the King of Kings. What does it look like to worship?  How can I, just like these wise men, come to him with a whole heart prepared to honor Him on the day of his birth?

Worship often means stepping out of my comfort zone. Just as the magi went out of their way, true worship means I may struggle with some feelings of mental discomfort. I go the extra mile...

True worship includes physical expression. The wise men "rejoiced exceedingly with great joy" (that doesn't sound like reverent whispers to me!). They "fell down and worshiped him."

True worship gives. "Opening their treasures, they offered Him gifts..."

True worship is excessive. ", frankincense, myrrh."
Gold: worship gives sacrificially out of our wealth (a little P.S. here: it really is true, we've never been able to out-give God...we give, He always gives back).

Frankincense: a gift of perfume, or incense, which is representative of the prayers of our heart (research Scripture, and you often find references to prayer as a "sweet smelling offering" to the Lord). A worshipping heart is a prayerful heart.

Myrrh: an anointing oil, often used to anoint a body in death. Myrrh, representative of an offering of our lives - wholehearted and complete.

As I look back over each of these thoughts, I guess I can summarize true worship with two words: reckless abandon...

In a couple of days, I get to commemorate Christ's birth, as do you. We'll all do so differently, with a day filled with traditions familiar to each of our homes. But, may we, also, do so with a worship that's somewhat reminiscent of King David as he danced through the streets of Jerusalem with the Ark of the Covenant... What a celebration of worship our Savior deserves! Advent is near!

Monday, December 22, 2014

Advent Thought #23 - December 22

I've been exploring (the last couple days), just who I might relate to the most, around the Nativity Story.  Decidedly, I'm no Mary. I do not have a "handmaiden" mentality; in other words, I'm not quick to say, "Lord, be it unto me as you have declared..."  I'm no Joseph. I dislike wrestling with tension when it comes to matters of religion. I'm not quick to obedience, nor do I do the patient-thing well. I'd like to improve in those areas over the New Year, but...Nope! Not there yet. So....

Next on the scene are the shepherds. Simple men. Smelly (they spent their entire day around sheep, for goodness sake!). Here's what I've learned about shepherd's during Jesus day.** Once shepherds held some level of esteem, and the occupation noble, as during the days of Abraham and a young, pre-king, David. By the time of Jesus' birth, this was no longer so. Shepherds were at the bottom of the social ladder, sharing the same status as tax collectors and dung sweepers. (Bummer!) They are only mentioned in Luke's gospel. Shepherds were marginalized, belittled, and stereotyped. In the Mishnah, Judaism's written record of the oral law, it is written that no one should ever feel obligated to rescue a shepherd who has fallen into a pit. Such prejudice extended to civil rights - shepherds were completely deprived. For goodness sake, a shepherd wasn't even admitted into a public court to testify as a witness. Some shepherds came by their reputation rightly, others not so much. Regardless, to be a shepherd was to be despised. 

In order to relate to a shepherd on the hillside, I had to think of the most marginalized, ill-thought-of people in current society. Not wanting to admit to my own social prejudices, I asked "Google." I typed into the search engine, "most despised people group in American society." The first fifteen (that's what showed up on my page #1) entries popped up the following answer: atheists.  I found that intriguing. So, picture a group of atheists sitting on a hillside, chatting about whatever atheists find to chat about, and a group of angels surround them with the birth announcement of a Savior sent from a God-they-don't-even-believe-exists. All of a sudden, we have atheists-no-more! All of a sudden, David Silverman, Peter Singer, Richard Dawkins, Michael Martin (and a host of Hollywood actors & actresses) are showing up in churches and singing the praise of God the Father, and telling unbelievable stories. All of a sudden, the religious leaders of our day are baffled! What's happening? Not only are they baffled, their noses are totally out of joint. God wouldn't unveil the greatest mystery of all time to these men!  Don't lose sight of this irony... However, it was the least expected that Jesus came to save. His mission was to move among the lowly and the outcast, to seek and to save the lost! Not the healthy, but the sick, needed the doctor!

To be a shepherd around the manger required a miracle of brokenness. To be a shepherd around the manger meant I recognized my lostness. To be a shepherd around the manger meant that I set aside all my worries about what people thought, and desired to SEE the SAVIOR more than I FEARED REJECTION. To be a shepherd around the manger meant that the safety net found in my identity, even as an outcast, had to be lost, so I could be found. Shepherds breeze in and out of the Nativity Story rather quickly, but what a huge place they hold: the unbelieving believing. They are the second greatest miracle of the Advent! 

No wonder they went away glorifying and praising God, and telling the wonderful story of all they had seen and heard!

In many ways, here I am! I am the Shepherd!

**** All credit given to Randy Alcorn, "Shepherd Status" in Come Thou Long-Expected Jesus, Nancy Guthrie, Editor,  Crossway Books, 2008, pp. 85-89.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Advent Thought #22 - December 21

No nativity is complete without the man hand-picked by God to be the step-father of His Son, namely, Joseph. What a responsibility! I often wonder what kind of thoughts ran through Joseph's mind as Jesus was growing? What kind of man was he?

Very little is said about Joseph in Scripture. Most of what we know about Joseph is found in Matthew's account of the story. 
His genealogy was impeccable. 

His reputation was faultless.

In the spiritual arena, Joseph's way of thinking, feeling, and acting were "wholly conformed to the will of God" (meaning of the Gk word, dikaios, translated "just").

Physically, he was a strong man - a carpenter by trade (my husband comes from a line of carpenters, so this I know by experience, though, poor Bay, tends to be the black sheep of the family when it comes to building).

In matters of the heart, he wrestled to do right. It's obvious, where Mary was concerned, Joseph was torn between "law" and "love"...but above all, he was "unwilling to put Mary to shame" (that speaks of a pretty tender soul).

He was quick to obedience, yet patient in practice. As soon as the angel spoke to him in a dream, Joseph believed... His belief turned to quick action. True belief always moves to quick action. This is repeated about Joseph with every move he and Mary made.

On the other hand, Joseph was a patient man...He was willing to wait on intimacy. To me this speaks of great love, not just for God, but for his wife. After all, one of the first attributes listed for true love is patience.

These are my favorite God-words about Joseph:

When Joseph awoke form sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son.
Matthew 1:24

If I'm a Joseph, then I'm willing to wrestle with tension that often comes between "law" and "love." I am patient in practice as I wait on God's timing, but quick to obedience when God speaks. 

Am I a Joseph?
Are you?

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Advent Thought #21 - December 20

I collect nativity scenes. I have them from all over; and they are placed all over my house. I enjoy putting them out every Christmas. Some years I hold back on just how many get unwrapped; I go for simplicity. Other years, they all go up. No matter how many go on the shelves, as I put the figures in place, there is a question that seems to hang over my head: Who am I in the Christmas story? Over the next few days, let's explore each figure, their character traits, and the role they played in the Jesus-story.


I know. We've already looked at Mary some little bit. So, here's what I see in this woman:
Pure in heart.
Willing to be willing.
Filled with God (literally and metaphorically).
Not fear-less, but courageous.

Here are some of my favorite God-words about Mary.

Greetings, O favored one (highly sought after, filled with grace), the Lord is with you! (Luke 1:28, 30)

"Do not be afraid, Mary... " (Luke 1:30)

And Mary said, "Behold  am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word." (Luke 1:38)

Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord. (Luke 1:45)

My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant... (Luke 1:46-48)

Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. (Luke 2:19)

As we read God's words, we can see so much depth of character between the lines, in the woman God chose to mother His Son. If anyone had a mama's heart, Mary did! If anyone understood what it meant to be a servant of the Lord Most High, Mary did! If anyone willingly surrendered her life to sacrificial obedience - it was Mary!

Are you Mary?
Am I?

If I'm a Mary, then I am a surrendered servant willing to be willing to receive from God's hand whatever He asks...

Ah, but there are still more folks around that manger to examine.  😃

Friday, December 19, 2014

Advent Thought # 20 - December 19

This is my favorite Christmas ornament. It happens to be the only Santa-anything I have in our house this time of year. Every year that I put up my little fake tree that is home to every nativity ornament I own, this one is front and center. I love that Santa is kneeling in front of the manger. It puts everything about Christmas back in perspective. It's not about Santa. I love that Santa is worshipping. It reminds me that Christmas is about humble beginnings and humble continuings (I know that's not a word, I like it, anyway). Jesus humbled Himself by becoming a babe, living simply, dying wholeheartedly on my behalf; I'm to live out His example on a daily basis. I love that at the bottom of this ornament it has these words:

That at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father!
Philippians 2:10-11

There it is. The true response to Christmas. Advent is near!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Advent Thoughts #19 - December 18

As a little girl, every Christmas Eve vespers service I ever attended began with this song, written out below (here's a link to listen):

O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel. 

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free

Thine own from Satan's tyranny
From depths of Hell Thy people save
And give them victory o'er the grave
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death's dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly home

This is a haunting song. A song sung by people in captivity and bondage. A song of slavery. A song of gloom and darkness. A song of the lonely. Yet...a song of hope. A song of promise. A song of redemption. You hear it in the music and lyrics.

The good news is Emmanuel came and with Him came everything that those in slavery, darkness, and misery hoped. Now, it's simply a matter of receiving... For all, even those who are in that dark place that sometimes envelops over the holidays, there is JOY to be found in Jesus. This is the story of the third advent candle, lit last Sunday: in His presence is fulness of joy. May we pass that on... Emmanuel came. He ransomed. He turned mourning into dancing. He freed us from Satan's tyranny, brought victory over the grave, dispersed the gloomy clouds of our lives, and cheered our spirits. May we live like we BELIEVE...and make it contagious to others who don't know it yet. The Good News is Advent is near for all who believe and receive...

Step into the joy of freedom in Christ!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Advent Thoughts #18 - December 17

There are a lot of "do not fear" statements in the Christmas story. Ever noticed? As I was re-reading the various accounts in the four gospels, the "do not fear" comments (mostly from a visiting angel) were spoken to a number of the critical players in the nativity story. However, there was one spoken to Joseph that leapt off the page and into my heart:

Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit...all this has taken place to fulfill what the Lord spoke to the prophet, Isaiah, "Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and he shall be called, Immanuel (which means, God with us)."
Matthew 1:20, 23

Talk about a fearful season for all the principle characters necessary to bring God's Son into and up in this world. Each found themselves constantly under a cloud of threat, fear of the future, and the possibilities of imminent death. Yet, over and over again, that visiting angel spoke words of assurance, "Do not fear..." Do not fear for God has come to you. Do not fear for God is now with you. Do not fear you are never alone. Do not fear for He will save you.  Do not fear, your prayers have been heard. Do not fear for I have brought you tidings of great joy.

"Do not fear!" is an integral part of the Advent Story...

We may not have an angel visit us today in our dreams, in a vision, or in person. Yet, we have this truth tucked away in the lines of the Jesus-story with which we can cling: He is with us...always! Even unto the end of the age!

Jesus Christ: the same yesterday, today, and forever.
Sovereign God.
The in-charge-I-AM, who oversees every outcome for a good we may not currently see, who will accomplish what He purposes, is the God of the Details.
This God is with me.
Advent is near!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Advent Thoughts #17 - December 16

Every time I turn on the Pandora Christmas-music-station, I hear someone crooning, "I'll be home for Christmas..." It's such a sad, nostalgic Christmas song, made more so by the fact that not everyone I love can be home for Christmas. During the holidays, I miss my grown-up-kids the most. Don't get me wrong, I love that they are able to create their own family traditions (those are IMPORTANT!). I am thrilled to think of them with their kiddos, carrying on some of the same ones that we instilled: attending the Christmas Eve service, gathering at home afterwards drinking some of Aunt Kim's Egg Nog (her special, yes, non-alcoholic, recipe is the BEST), reading the Christmas story, tearing open a few presents before bed, saving Christmas stockings & a surprise gift for morning... What I miss is the magic that family makes by being together. So, we've learned to make that magic happen whenever we can...and, I'm glad that my kiddos work at finding the few times we can all gather under one roof.

However, this Advent Season, more than ever, I have been thinking more about just where "home" is. On Saturday, we received word that a dear, spiritually-influential friend of ours has really gone "home" for Christmas. This Christmas, he will spend with Jesus. I can't think of a better time to be home. I can only imagine the reunion and the celebration! This man left a HUGE legacy. Not just in his immediate family, but in his church family, and community. The fact is, I wouldn't be sitting here typing a blog entry about Advent were it not for him. Cecil bought into the vision of five high school kids, who wanted to make a difference for Jesus in their school. So, he gave them land near his home, bought them materials, and helped them build a little building where they could invite other students for Bible studies, prayer times, and parties. I got invited one October night to a fall party, and a few short weeks later, my life was totally transformed, when Jesus was born in my heart in a BIG WAY. I'm so glad he's home for this holy-day season!

For Jesus-followers, that haunting we feel at Christmas-time, that longing for home, for family, is simply a poignant reminder that none of us are HOME. We'll never really have that hole in our hearts filled until we reach heaven's gates. Oh, we may sense the magic for a few brief days, when family can gather together, but it's simply a foretaste of what we really are seeking - being at home in the presence of our Savior. We will never be fully satisfied until we are home with Jesus. The Jesus-disciple, Peter, got that fact - he looked beyond earth to that place about which his Lord taught. As Jesus explained the fact of His coming death to His disciples, He used these words: "In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also (John 14: 2-3, ESV)." So, Peter reminds us, "Friends, this world isn't your home, so don't make ourselves cozy in it...(1 Peter 2:11, MSG)" 

Advent is more than just a current season of approximately 25-30 days. Advent is ahead. Jesus is currently preparing for another Christmas. A Christmas when all the family who are in-Christ will be together celebrating in His Father's mansion. I look forward with anticipation to that day. So much so, that I don't want to be "cozy" here. And, just as my adult-kids work hard to make together-times happen, I will do my part to work at making an eternal gathering with those I love possible. Think of the magic of that time! Advent is near!

Today's Advent Lesson: One day, those of us in-Christ will all be home for Christmas. Let's prepare for that Advent by sending out Kingdom invitations. What a day that will be!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Advent Thought #16 - December 15

(...a continuation from yesterday)

Tis the season for Magnificats. Last night even God was verbalizing one of sorts in His own glorious display. He continues to remind me, even in His simple acts, I have a BIG GOD who is for a little me.
And, He has given me a joy-job!

MY MAGNIFICAT (of sorts)

My soul rejoices in the Lord
For He is the God of the Impossible-Made-Possible
He is the BIG GOD for the Little One
The God of BIG DEEDS
The God of HELP
The God of HEALING
The God Who Brings HOPE
Holy is His Name
Merciful is His Character
Grace is His motive
Powerful are His acts

My soul rejoices in the Lord
For He has chosen me to be
His instrument -
A vessel of honor,
Useful to the Master,
Prepared for every good work.

He has impregnated me
With the fulness of His Holy Spirit,
To spill forth
- faith
- wisdom
- grace, and
- life-changing power,

Because He has bestowed upon me
The Blessing
Of Bearing His Name
Wherever He might send:
- next door
- across the street
- within the state
- the country
- across the sea
- maybe, even to church!

So may I carry that name, like a phylactery
Bound to me for all to see
- to know
- to understand
- to agree
that I AM a follower of Jesus, the Christ

What precious, priceless cargo!
May I carry it as Paul must have after Ananias lay hands on him so long ago,
- proudly
- protectively
- possessively
- purposely, and with
- priority.

Certainly, he was persecuted.
Yes, ultimately put to death.
But along the pathways of his journey many praised God!
Because of Him,
Picked up the name, and
Carried on...

And when others see me - even from a distance,
May something deep within their spirits leap for joy,
Because they recognize that for me
To Live is CHRIST!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Advent Thoughts #15 - December 14

Yesterday, Luke's gospel led me Luke's other book, the Acts of the Holy Spirit, and in particular the life-changing, transformation of one named Saul, turned Paul. I loved the Lord's words to Ananias about Paul. Ananias was a little skittish when God came to him and asked him to go and lay hands on the man so that he might regain his sight. Rightly so, Ananias had heard much about the him, and how much evil he had done to God's saints, his brethren. So, God jumps all over Ananias for his doubt! (Of course not, I'm just checking to make sure you're really reading). God assures Ananias with these words, "Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name (Acts 9: 12-16). 

The words spoken are interesting enough, but one word in particular is intriguing. It's the word "carry," which means "to bear" (as in a woman "bearing a child"). Paul's call on his life was to be pregnant with the name of the Lord. And, just as a woman would "suffer" in child-birth, Paul would suffer the pains of bearing the name.

I've often related my salvation transformation to Paul's. I know, that sounds a bit prideful. Believe me, I recognize mine wasn't on the magnitude of Paul's (and I hadn't been quite as evil), but my life, my desires, my behavior all changed overnight. Most of all, I believed that night of my salvation, that God had placed a call on my life to "carry the name of the Lord" and to present Him in a way that others might KNOW HIM as I had come to know Him. That call is still vivid and clear. So, like Paul, my mission, our mission, as believers, is to "bear the name of Jesus" -

Where's this going? All that background to say this: Like Mary I am called to bear the Savior, to bring Him forth, the Savior of mankind. That led me to thinking back to Mary's response to her call: Mary's Magnificat. A call that important requires a proper response!


I'm wondering...have you ever written yours? What a great time of year to do so, don't you think! Advent is near!

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Advent Thoughts #14 - December 13

One (ahem!) should clean out their files every 20-years, or so. It's pretty amazing what one (meaning, me!) might discover. I did just that this week. Driven to it by my husband, who had finally decided to stain the desk to match the cabinets overhead in my office/family room, I found this little gem (see below). I don't remember who gave it to me, and, yes, I'm reprinting it without permission (so, if you know the artist, please forgive). Since, I've been thinking about Mary, it just seemed so appropriate to add it to the blogosphere...

Yet, the focus this morning is on Mary's Magnificat. What a song of praise! Although her immediate words to the angel, were words of submission ("I am the Lord's handmaid, let it be unto me as you have said."), it seemed to take Mary a while to process all that was happening with her. Seriously, would the fulness of the angels declaration to YOU be in the moment? Of course not! But, then again, that's what I love about Scripture; and, what I love about the people of the Bible. They were HUMAN - just like us. Reading between the lines, we recognize just how similar we all are. So, between the angels departure (in Luke 1:38) and Mary's Song of Praise (Luke 1:46), are several days, many miles, and, a lot of walking. That's when I do my best thinking...over several days and a lot of walking (even many miles)...

Upon arrival, Elizabeth greeted Mary with these words, "Why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed (Luke 1:44-45)..." By this time, Mary was full to overflowing, and that fulness poured forth from her mouth. Things often pour forth from my mouth, but I gotta admit, they aren't always praise worthy. God says to us, "Out of the heart, the mouth speaks." That tells me the difference between Mary's heart and mine! It speaks to me of several things regarding Mary -
Her heart was humble.
Her heart desired to serve.
Her heart was courageous (not necessarily absent of fear-of-the-future, nor without questions, but Mary had an uncanny willingness to move forward in spite of the fear and the questions).

Most of all, Mary's heart was filled with faith! Her song proves that she believed in a BIG God for LITTLE people! That's what struck a chord with my heart as I looked into the Magnificat. Twice Mary references her "humble estate," and calls herself the Lord's servant. She saw herself as a "little one." Then she goes on and magnifies her Lord. Her words are an exemplary model of putting EVERYTHING IN PROPER PERSPECTIVE. By the time she finishes, even I'm reminded that this BIG God is for me! By the time she finishes, I'm in total agreement that my Lord is the God of the impossible-made-possible. Mary's Magnificat is worth reading every time we face something that is bigger than we think we can handle. It's not just an Advent/Christmas piece of literature. It's for everyone and everyday.

I want a Mary-heart that looks at the future with humble courage, ready to serve, because I know THE Big God who is for Little People who believe! After all, Advent is near!

Friday, December 12, 2014

Advent Thoughts #13 - December 12

Yesterday, I left off asking myself a question, "Peg - what do you know?" I've thought A LOT about that for twenty-four hours.

Mary had no Bible.
Mary had no resources.
Mary had no teachers.
Mary wasn't allowed to be educated in a traditional sense.
I have a Bible; no, correction, I have many Bibles of different translations.
I have resources - bookshelves full of them, as well as a Kindle app filled to overflowing.
I have the internet, filled with teachers of high caliber and quality scholars.
I have total freedom to increase in wisdom and knowledge.

What do I know, though?

It almost seems the more "food" available, the less the hunger. What a sad indictment on myself in the midst of scholarly wealth and availability.

What do I know? And, why is it important? Because, Advent is near! Jesus will come again. As the time draws nearer, the more the enemy wrestles to divert attention, to close our minds, to hide the truth, to kill Peace. Just as he did the first time. This we should know, in the end times there will be more trial, tribulation, and persecution than ever before. We could easily find ourselves in a situation where Biblical information is as hard-to-get as other resources. The enemy fears his future, so he will attempt to increase fear in God's people, attempting to destroy in His wake for one last-ditch-effort to control.

Do I have a Mary-heart? A heart that ponders and longs for Truth? A heart that listens, and puts the pieces of the puzzle together? Not just to ponder, but to remember? Not just to reference, but to HIDE away forever? Not just to have available when needed, but to know and to have - to hold onto for future courage and perseverance?

May I never fear the future, but meet it head on, because I have faithfully studied to that end.
Advent is near!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Advent Thoughts #12 - December 11

I keep wondering about Mary...and I keep wondering about what the Lord God opened her eyes to know. I went back to read Isaiah 53. It's all in black and white. Yet, the teachers of the law seemed to miss it. God the Father had allowed their eyes to be blind to the idea of His Son being the Suffering Servant, in order that His plan of salvation be fulfilled. So, I'm guessing Mary didn't know just then what was in store for the Messiah, her babe. Isn't that a good thing, though? What mom wants to see her newborn son shadowed by a cross over his cradle? (That's one of the great gifts of God...He often shelters us from the KNOW until we NEED TO KNOW!)  So, it was a gift of grace these words weren't ringing in Mary's ears that night in the manger:

He was despised and rejected by men;
a man of sorrows, 
best friends with grief.
He was one from whom men hid their faces; 
He was despised and un-esteemed.

He has borne our griefs 
and carried our sorrow;
Yet he was stricken, 
and afflicted,
Pierced for our transgressions;
Crushed for our iniquities
Upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace!
His wounds healed ours.

He was oppressed,
like a lamb led to the slaughter....
(Isaiah 53:3-7, paraphrased)

Yet, I'm so thankful this was God's plan. There in the midst of anguish is the gospel. God's Good News for mankind. He was pierced, crushed, chastised, wounded...that I might be made whole, healed, set free, and given peace....through His so-great-a-salvation!

He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who would receive Him, who would believe in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. So the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:10-14)

Mary may not have known that night in the Bethlehem stable, but Mary was a ponderer. Mary had a teachable spirit. As her child grew, and she began to see things, and hear more things, I have to believe the Lord opened her eyes slowly to the PLAN for ALL MANKIND. The pieces of the puzzle began to come together. Grief and hope mingled...and peace. I have to believe that as Jesus grew, Mary DID KNOW that her Son would soon Deliver her; and, in the midst of life, Mary surrendered her son to death. 

There's a lot for me to learn from this woman of faith, this human mom, who is not unlike any of us. The question now is, "Peg - what do you know?" Advent is near!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Advent Thoughts #11 - December 10

The following link has been all over Facebook, so you may have clicked on it already, but if not, take a listen to this remix of one of my favorite Christmas songs - Mary Did You Know (Pentatonix):

The song alone is worth pondering today as we reflect on Advent. However, as I listened, the question kept begging an answer in my mind - Exactly what did Mary know? I think the question seemed even more looming this morning. Last night, Bay and I watched the old movie, Yentl, with Barbara Streisand. If you've not seen it, the story highlights a young Hebrew woman who longed to study, to increase in knowledge, to have her questions answered, but she lived in an era when "it was a man's job to do the thinking and the learning, and a woman's job to marry, to cook, and to have babies." For a woman to read and study the Torah was illegal. Yet, bless his heart, Yentl's father taught her to read, to study, to discuss, and, even argue the Holy Writings...until he died, and Yentl was left with nothing. So, she cut her hair, dressed like a young boy, and set out to a new community where she might enroll & live among the male population as a student, and satiate her greatest desire.

Mary lived in such a society, perhaps a bit worse than Yentl's. Life for women in Mary's world was not easy, nor free. Women were no more than property owned by a man. As in Yentl's world, what Mary DID KNOW was that she wasn't allowed to think, to have a voice. What Mary DID KNOW would have been caught, as others talked, but she was NEVER taught. What Mary DID KNOW was that there would, one day, come a Messiah, and all young girls, who lived to marry and have babies, hoped that they might be the blessed woman to birth that child. Their belief was this babe would grow to manhood and rescue Israel from Roman reign. What Mary DID KNOW was limited to what the men knew, and even their picture of the Christ-to-come was skewed. The men expected a victorious warrior, a ruler to sit on the throne of David - a King who would release them all from persecution. Perhaps Mary was looking forward to a throne, not a tomb; a castle, not a cross.

I know one thing - Mary didn't know Isaiah-the Prophet's words that it would be a virgin who would conceive, for her first question to the angel (after he settled her fears) was, "How can this be when I have not known a man?" If she was blind to that explicit truth, to what else was she blind? No one saw the Messiah as Isaiah painted Him in chapter 53: a suffering servant. So what did Mary know? All we know for certain is that Mary DID KNOW what the angel told her, and every word built one upon another until they crescendoed in her mind: I will be the Mother of the Christ. Advent is near!

Here is what Mary DID KNOW:

Savior of Sin
Miraculous Birth
Ruler over Jacob's House
Son of the MOST HIGH GOD
Exceedingly Great in Importance & Authority
A Gift of Jehovah, Yahweh, to one day Reign Over David's Throne
Holy One
Luke 1:26-38

At this season of Advent, I am particularly thankful for the opportunities I have to learn and to increase in knowledge, and with that knowledge to grow in grace and mercy. Advent's fulfillment opened a whole knew world of hope for me!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Advent Thoughts #10 - December 9

Still reflecting on peace, I happened to read this prayer from an old book of prayers, this morning, Prayers Ancient and Modern - Primary Source Edition (Mary Wilder Tileston). Making this prayer mine today as a part of my Advent reflection:

Grant unto us, Almighty God, Thy peace that passeth all understanding; that we, amid the storms and troubles of this our life, may rest in Thee, knowing that all things are in Thee, under Thy care, governed by Thy will, guarded by Thy love; so that with a quiet heart we may see the storms of life, the cloud and the thick darkness; ever rejoicing to know that the darkness and the light are both alike to Thee. Guide, guard, and govern us even to the end, that none of us may fail to lay old upon the immortal life - Amen
-George Dawson-

Guide, guard, govern...I like that! It made me think of this verse, regarding Christ's Advent:

For unto us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Isaiah 9:6

Monday, December 8, 2014

Advent Thoughts #9 - December 8

After yesterday's Advent thought, I remembered a poem I'd written in a FOCUS Ministries Christmas letter year's ago. I had to go digging to find it. I'm no poet (not even close). Yet, it speaks to the concept of peace, and the notion that while angels proclaimed peace on earth, even Jesus, during his ministry said, "Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword... (Matthew 10:34)." Yes, there will be divisions and strife in relationships that are close to us, as well as between nations, but, what Jesus did come to bring was individual peace for those who sought Him. A common thread runs through Jesus' miracles; a thread similar to this one, "Your faith has saved you; go in peace (Luke 7:50)!"  or this prayer from the Apostle Paul (Romans 15:13): May the God of Hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing (emphasis mine).  Here's the message of peace at Advent: The peace of Jesus is the peace that ceases the wars that rage inside of me!

So, here's that poem to ponder today:

"Peace on earth; goodwill toward men,"
The angels declared that night.
But where was the peace they promised?
It seemed nowhere in sight.

No peace to be found in Ramah.
Rachel weeping for her child.
For they all sought an absence of strife.
A political climate so mild.

They did not understand the truth,
Their eyes, in fact, were blind.
They weren't to look for conditions,
But a Peace of a different kind.

It wasn't a what, but rather a WHO,
Had arrived on earth that night.
A soft sweet babe in a manger,
Not a king with powerful might.

A simple child of parent's poor,
No national wars would He cease.
But there, wrapped in swaddling cloth,
Lay the Sovereign Prince of Peace.

He'd come to seek and save the lost,
To set the captives free.
To proclaim good news to every man,
And cease the war in me!

"Pray for the peace of Jerusalem,"
The Scriptures make it clear.
Let's not make the same mistake,
This time seek His Presence here.

No peace will be found 'til Christ returns,
And on the Mount of Olives stands.
Then Peace will reign o'er all the earth,
As this Prince, His peace commands.

Peg Forrest (c) 2003

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Advent Thoughts #8 - December 7

This the second Sunday of Advent, and, we get (woohoo!) to light the second candle on our advent wreath, which represents peace.

Here's what the angels came declaring to the shepherds that star-filled night of Christ's birth:
"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased (Luke 2:14)."

On that one night, Peace was born. It didn't take long for the world to try to wipe Him out. We say we long for "peace on earth." We hear those words often, in our war-filled world. Yet, it makes me wonder if we really want it? Why do we, the human race, continue to stir up the proverbial hornets nest? Are we afraid of Peace? Perhaps...perhaps, so! Here's what seemed to pop into my mind as I began to ponder peace: To want peace contradicts our desire for control! One of our greatest fears is being out of control. Yet, peace is only found in surrender - surrender to the Prince of Peace, Jesus.

Surrender is God's invitation to contentment and everlasting peace.

Truly, there will be no "peace on earth" until the Prince of Peace returns at His second Advent, and every knee bows and every tongue proclaims Him Lord! Advent is near!

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Advent Thoughts #7 - December 6

Yesterday, as I was working in the kitchen and listening to a little Christmas music playing in the background, I began singing along to an old Christmas-favorite, "Oh, come let us adore Him! Oh, come let us adore Him! Oh, come let us adore Him! Christ...the Lord!" 

Advent - a season to focus on adoration of our Savior and Lord... So, I refreshed my memory on just what it means to "adore" someone. I'll refresh your memory, too. It means "to love intensely, to worship, speak words of admiration and reverence; to regard with feelings of respect and reverence; to consider as hallowed or exalted (I can't credit any one resource as this is a combination of Hebrew, Greek, and the WordBook Dictionary App)." It was the words I italicized above that struck my heart - to speak, out loud, words of adoration. The realization hit that I seldom do just that... I have gotten in the habit of being thankful; but that's not adoration. Adoration involves character - WHO YOU ARE. Adoration means I tell you just what I love about you. It's not what I love about what you do FOR ME, but who you are TO ME! That's a big difference. It seems lately, that there's been this big push on gratitude (and rightly so, we do tend to be an ungrateful people); but, so much focus, that perhaps we've forgotten adoration.

I read this statement a couple of years ago in a book on marriage, and it stuck: "We can't love someone intimately, when we are always thinking about them, or talking about them, negatively." ** Not only is this true in marriage, it's true in all relationships, especially our relationship with Jesus. Remembering to speak words of adoration will always lead us to deeper intimacy! And, I long for the delights that come with exploring the depths of my relationship with my Savior!

So, as I sang out those words, "Oh, come let us adore Him," there was a quiet Spirit-whisper of invitation - "Come..." I did. In the midst of a meal preparation, I stopped and sat at my table, and began to work on an activity I learned years ago in Mom's In Touch: write a list about who God is for every letter of the alphabet. And, I began to speak it aloud, looking heavenward. Gotta admit, it felt awkward. That just speaks to how foreign adoration has become. Oh, that it may not be just a random, Advent event. May this become the spirit of my soul, to long to come, often, and adore Him...Christ the Lord!

I wonder this morning...might this be our Lord's response when we come?

*(I'm sure I'm not quoting this exactly, but thank you, Paul David Tripp - these words have served me well!)

Friday, December 5, 2014

Advent Thoughts #6 - December 5

Hearts prepared. Advent is a time of preparation. That was another "job" of John the Baptist (Jesus' personal fore-runner). He lived to "turn the hearts of Israel back to their God (Matthew 1:16)." Israel had lost her focus. Israel had lost her zeal. Israel had buried truth, and commitment was, well, comfortable. Perhaps, we live to turn the hearts of the church back to our God.

In many ways, the bride of Christ has the same problems we read regarding God's Chosen. Yet, readiness starts with me! As I look toward the Advents of Christ's birth-celebration, and the Advent of His return, I want my heart, my mind, my soul to be ready. I sing, "Let every heart prepare Him room!" However, I should sing (if I could get them to fit the melody), "Let every intent of my heart be to prepare Him room!" Right now is a great time to re-set my soul, to ask some hard questions, and to repent, re-focus, and re-commit.

Am I doing what I can to be "internally fit" (a meaning of the Greek word for prepare)?
Am I mentally packing away truth I might need for the journey ahead (readying myself)?
Am I learning to love & live in wisdom and righteousness (turning my heart)?
Am I seeking to live justly (one who observes divine commands; and, who is "thinking, feeling and acting as one wholly conformed to the will of God")?
Most of all, do I recognize my brokenness, my NEED of a Savior, and LOVE HIM, APPRECIATE HIM, for whom He was born to die: me! When I do, all of the above become acts birthed out of grace, not law!

May John's mission be contagiously caught by all as we prepare room for our Savior, once again! And, may we catch the vision of fore-running....all the way to Christ's return. Advent is near! 

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Advent Thoughts #5 - December 4

This is enough to reflect on today as we think of the Advent of Christ's birth:

How much do I value my Savior? The way I wait is telling... Yet, what a promise in the midst of the waiting!

For since the world began,
no ear has heard
And no eye has seen a God like you,
who works for those who wait for Him!
Isaiah 64:4

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Advent Thoughts #4 - December 3

I received an e-letter from a friend of mine. This friend is a "global worker" (we used to use the "m" word to describe this gal, but we can't anymore). She works in an undisclosed 10-40-window-country. That means I can't tell you where she is serving. However, her neighborhood has become a war zone in recent weeks: bombs, rifles, grenades (you get the picture). Her e-letter can't be reprinted, but I can tell you some of the contents. The day before she wrote this missive, five brothers-of-the-faith had been martyred for their beliefs. One dad, along, with his two teenage sons, she and her husband knew very well. Their little Christian community was rocked and deeply grieving, but, she said, "Not without hope!" They all know that these modern-day-martyrs were not swallowed up in death, but to LIFE. It's why Jesus was born, so He could die, to bring new hope of everlasting LIFE. It doesn't mean life will be easy or happy. It does mean we all have a better something to look forward to in the midst of such tragedy. Hope is not deferred even in this tragedy, making the heart sick (Proverbs 13:12)

Last Saturday, my daughter-in-love and I, took my four little grand-treasures to Focus on the Family. They were showing a free movie (with free popcorn and drinks), and the bookstore had a 25%-off-the-entire-store sale. Since I am focusing on Advent, I bought a beautifully carved Advent-wreath. This week we've lit the first candle, which represents HOPE. I understand the need for HOPE so much more after pondering and praying over my friend's note. As I prayed, I found myself in the middle of Jeremiah's Lamentations. Everything in his life had been stripped away. Yet, in the middle of the loss, Jeremiah KNEW and DID NOT FORGET hope. That's because he knew the only source of hope. Here are his words:

Yet I still dare to hope when I remember this:
The faithful love of the Lord never ends!
His mercies never cease.
Great is His faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each and every morning.
I say to myself, "The Lord is my inheritance; therefore, I will hope in him!"
The Lord is good to those who depend on him, to those who search for him.
So it is good to wait quietly for salvation from the Lord.
And it is good for people to submit at an early age to his yoke, to sit in silence beneath His commands.
Let them lie face down in the dust, for there may hope be one is ever totally abandoned by the Lord.
Though he brings grief, he also shows compassion, because of the greatness of his unfailing love. Who can command things to happen without the Lord's permission? Does not the Most High send both calamity and good?
Instead...let us turn back to the Lord, and lift our hearts and hands to God in heaven...
(excerpts from Lamentations 3:21-41)

Again, may we be reminders of the HOPE that is found forever in the faithfulness and mercies of our God. He will, as Jeremiah goes on to remind us, be true to His promises regarding His chosen, His beloved Children; and, He will come again! Advent is near!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Advent Thoughts #3 - December 2

I've been thinking a lot about the waiting that comes with Advent. Waiting is imperative with the coming. Waiting says there is something better ahead...and, so, with the waiting there has to be hope. The two join hands and walk together towards the coming. Hope is that little flutter that keeps the waiting alive, and nudges my ability to press on. There are days it is hard to stay steadfast were it not for hope (especially over the holidays). We need to be reminded of hope: hope that with the coming there will, indeed, be change. So many feel stuck and hopeless during the holidays. Sometimes, it's almost impossible to sense that little flutter and keep going.

That's why we need fore-runners. That's why we need prophets. That's why the Israelites, after 400 years of heaven's silence, had to have a John-the-Baptist. Hope was at a premium. Few had any hope-remnants left considering the conditions under which they were living - socially, politically, economically, environmentally, emotionally (all were a struggle), but particularly, spiritually. So, God gave a fore-running miracle in the birth of a new-kind-of-prophet. John's job? Prepare the way for the coming. Turn hearts. Ready the souls. Bring hope.

If I am a follower of Jesus, John's job is mine, too. This Christmas season, I'm to find ways to do the same. Nothing declares the specialness of the season like a hope-bringer. This Advent, it's my desire to renew hope by being someone's fore-running miracle. I was born again for just such a Joy.


Monday, December 1, 2014

Advent Thoughts #2 - December 1

Advent gently reminds us of the “now” and “not yet” that comes with being people of faith. Advent reminds us of the importance of waiting. Advent whispers our need for a Savior. Advent teaches us God’s timing is always better than ours!
-M. Feinberg-

This morning’s focus is on the “waiting room” period that comes with Advent. There are several things I’m praying about, waiting on, and begging God to let me see their advent. Almost every one of importance has to do with people I love being in need of my Savior. As I reflect today on the Advent of Jesus’ birth, I pray for the timing of His "birth" in each of those hearts. With God, it is always about the occurrences we’re seeking, coming in the fullness of time. So, while I’m standing in the now, I’m looking for the time when the “not yet” is at an end, and God the Father looks at God the Son and says, “OK, now - go! Be born-anew in hearts that have seen the fulness-of-time!”

May we all use our current waitings as a means of preparing our hearts for the coming celebration of well, as a look toward the second Great Coming!