“Come and See What Love Has Done…”

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” –Luke 2:13-14

“What shall I say to you; what shall I tell you? I behold a mother who has brought forth new life; I see a child come to this light by birth. The manner of his conception I cannot comprehend. Nature is overcome, the boundaries of the established order set aside, where God so wills. For not according to nature has this thing come to pass. Nature here has rested, while the will of God labored. O, ineffable grace! The only begotten One, who is before all ages, who cannot be touched or be perceived, who is simple, without body, has now put on my body, which is visible and liable to corruption. For what reason? That coming amongst us he may teach us, and teaching, lead us by the hand to the things that we mortals cannot see. For since we believe that the eyes are more trustworthy than the ears, we doubt that which they do not see, and so he has deigned to show himself in bodily presence, that he may remove all doubt…

What shall I say! And how shall I describe this birth to you? For this wonder fills me with astonishment. The Ancient of Days has become an infant. He who sits upon the sublime and heavenly throne now lies in a manger. And he who cannot be touched, who is without complexity, incorporeal, now lies subject to human hands. He who has broken the bonds of sinners is now bound by an infant’s bands. But he has decreed that ignominy shall become honor, infamy be clothed with glory, and abject humiliation the measure of his goodness. For this he assumed my body, that I may become capable of his word; taking my flesh, he gives me his spirit; and so bestowing and I receiving, he prepares for me the treasure of life. He takes my flesh to sanctify me; he gives me his Spirit, that he may save me.

Truly wondrous is the whole chronicle of the nativity. For this day the ancient slavery is ended, the devil confounded, the demons take to flight, the power of death is broken. For this day paradise is unlocked, the curse is taken away, sin is removed, error driven out, truth has been brought back, the speech of kindliness diffused and spread on every side – a heavenly way of life has been implanted on the earth…

Why is this? Because God is now on earth, and man in heaven; on every side all things commingle. He has come on earth, while being fully in heaven; and while complete in heaven, he is without diminution on earth. Though he was God, he became man, not denying himself to be God. Though being the unchanging Word, he became flesh that he might dwell amongst us.

What shall I say? What shall I utter?

‘Behold an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.'”

–St. John Chrysostom, from the essay ‘The Mystery’

Annunciation by Scott Cairns

fullsizerender-19

Deep within the clay, and O my people
very deep within the wholly earthen
compound of our kind arrives of one clear,
star-illumined evening a spark igniting
once again the tinder of our lately
banked noetic fire. She burns but she
is not consumed. The dew lights gently,
suffusing the pure fleece. The wall comes down.
And—do you feel the pulse?—we all become
the kindled kindred of a King whose birth
thereafter bears to all a bright nativity.

(Scott Cairns is one of my favorite poets, but I was unfamiliar with this poem until another poet I hold in high esteem featured it in his Advent series…please check out Malcolm Guite’s site for more beautiful words and images. You can also hear him reading this poem, which is a moment you don’t want to miss.)

What I’m Holding Onto This Christmas

You’re probably seeing the same things I’m seeing these days: Christmas trees twinkling, white wire reindeer grazing on lawns, cookies frosted in red and green lining the shelves of the grocery store bakery…for Thanksgiving has come and gone, bringing us into the midst of another Advent season.

It’s a strange time of year, isn’t it? We’re told by most Christmas songs blaring over the store’s speakers that we’re supposed to be jolly and full of festive cheer…but that’s not all that Christmas brings to us. For me, it also brings nostalgia for my childhood and a yearning to create a sense of wonder in my kids…it brings an awareness of another year of my life coming to an end…it’s a reminder of the stark contrasts of our world: those who have an abundance of all they need and those who – simply – don’t. December brings the darkest days of the year and sometimes those shadowy edges of our days feel unnerving, uncertain.

This year, especially, the world does feel heavy with pain and so fragile…

but, then, it always has been.

That’s why we needed our Savior to come.

It’s why we still need Him now.

This is the side of Christmas I need the most this year: Mary and Joseph saying ‘yes’ to God’s purpose even when they couldn’t understand it all, a people who would not give up hope of rescue even in their time of fear, the unlikely manger becoming the bed for a King who could not leave His people hopeless, the brightest and most wondrous words coming in the dark of night to ordinary men:

Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all the people; for there is born to you this day a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:10)

The glitter and the Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree are fun, and I’m sure there will be  moments for that kind of festivity — but I am leaning on the every-day-and-all-year-round-truths that undergird the celebration: Christ has come. Christ is with us.

He is with you. He is with me.

The One who loves us does not leave us. He is steadfast in His love…He waits for us to welcome Him, waits with a heart yearning for us, and once we do — He is here. He bears our pain. He understands our sorrow. He takes away our fear. He gives us His own righteousness to wear instead of our sin and shame. When the darkness descends, He shows us the beauty and power of His light.

In the middle of it all, we have the hope of His unfailing love –

and this love is my candle steadily burning bright, my consolation, my peace, and the hope of every tomorrow held in His hands.

(I know how busy and overwhelming this season can be…so I’ve decided to pick up our journey through Genesis with Together We Follow in full-force this January. Until then, I’ll be sharing the music, poetry, and art that quiets my heart and re-focuses my eyes on what matters most during the Christmas season.)

In The Storm

Things look a little different around here these days. There are trees, their leaves now golden-brown, bowed low to the ground along the highway. Ditches are deeper, wider. Cracks and widening gullies have appeared on the edges of the woods near our house. Water lines stain buildings in town. Gaps appear where trees used to stand and, in one spot, an entire row of pines has disappeared.

Hurricane Matthew may be long gone, but the evidence of it still remains. Our land is changed. We have been marked by the storm.

I know I’ve been absent here on the site over the past little while. I’ve been watching and waiting as this storm of contention continues to hover over our entire nation. I’ve been wondering what the long-term affects will look like…I’ve been wondering how our land will change…I’ve been wondering how my life will be altered.

We can’t control the storm or the changes time will reveal…but I’ve been thinking a lot about the landscape of my own heart in a time when wildfires of anger are hot and fierce, ignited by careless words…in a time when hatred and fear are raining down…in a time when the ground beneath us seems to be cracking under the pressure of it all.

My instinct is to find shelter, to avoid the storm as much as I can, to keep change at bay.

But I’m reminded, as I watch the constant flow of painful news stories, that Jesus willingly stepped into our storm. He came into the pain, into the sin-filled world, to bring His peace. He didn’t avoid the chaos, but pursued our hearts in the middle of it. He came into the mess of my mistakes so that I could know His life-giving love.

If I am following Him, I cannot pile sand-bags around my heart to maintain my own safety. If I am committed to loving people like He loves people, I have to be okay with exposure to the gales…and I CAN be, because I know that the Peace-Speaker, the One whom the wind and the rains obey, always holds my soul steady in His hands.

We’re all enduring a storm and, one way or another, we’ll be marked by it. But I don’t want to be marked by fear, apathy, anger, or confusion. I want it to be the Holy Spirit teaching and shaping the landscape of my soul as this season continues.

Instead of hardening toward those I disagree with, I want my heart to soften in compassion. I need to strengthen my resolve to become quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger, and the first to love. I want to tend even more diligently to these roots so that I am firmly planted in truth, immovable by even the fiercest wind. I want to remain bowed low in prayer. I want a deeper desire to intercede for others who need Him. I want to be more vulnerable, to throw up the windows and open the doors even as the rain pours and the thunder bellows — because I  want to be faithful to go into the world…into the storm…with the good news of Jesus Christ.

We are the children of God, the body of Christ, the citizens of the kingdom of light — so let us live unafraid and undeterred by the schemes of the enemy. Don’t let the cacophony of the storm persuade us to stop singing the song of mercy, grace, and redemption we have been given…it may seem powerful and overwhelming at times, but ‘all authority in heaven and on earth’ belongs to our Savior. His voice cuts through the chaos. His truth does not falter. His power and His love do not fail.

Our world will keep changing – but the One who holds its purpose remains steadfast.

He has entrusted us with the call to shine into the darkness, not just to light up our own safe circle…and we can follow where He leads us, knowing that there is no storm strong enough to extinguish the Light of Jesus Christ within us.

Knowing You are with us, we can boldly declare Your name to this world.  Knowing how You love us, we yield to the changes You make in us…conform us to Your image, Jesus, and let our lives glorify the Father.  Remind us, Lord, of who You are…in our hope in You, we can stand firm through every storm that comes into our lives.  

“Death could not hold You,
The veil tore before You
You silence the boast of sin and grave
The heavens are roaring
The praise of Your glory
For You are raised to life again

You have no rival
You have no equal
Now and forever God You reign
Yours is the kingdom
Yours is the glory
Yours is the Name above all names.”

Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good.  Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another; not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer…

 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another. Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble…

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” – from Romans 12

Together We Follow (Genesis 14:1-16)

When we enter today’s passage of Scripture, we find ourselves in the middle of a war in Canaan. There’s rebellion, kings joining forces against other kings, conquests, and invasions.

For Abram, this war brings devastating news: his nephew, Lot, has been taken as a prisoner by the conquering army.

Abram doesn’t seem to hesitate. He mobilizes 318 men and sets off to rescue his family. They pursue and attack King Kedorlaomer’s men, causing this army – this army that has just conquered and plundered the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah – to flee.

To me, this is an amazing story. We’re not told how many men make up the army that Abram is chasing, but we know that this is a trained and victorious group of men. Abram does not let that stop him…it seems so improbable that Abram’s small troop would be able to conquer an actual army – and, yet, he leads them to recover all that had been taken.

Abram is learning — through his faith-fueled action — that there’s nothing too hard for God. He’s learning that impossible odds are overcome when God is in control of the situation. He’s seeing that God reigns over the nations, God sits on His holy throne. (Psalm 47:8) 

It’s a truth he will need, again and again, as he continues his journey.

Isn’t it a truth we all need?

When chaos is all around, when the bad news comes, when it seems that we are powerless – our God is still King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God. (1 Tim. 1:17) Nothing can change who He is. Nothing can change His purpose. His love and His dominion endure through all generations.

When things are difficult, when we have no answers -we cry out to Him because He is the only one who can make a way. This is when – like Abram – we let our faith fuel our actions and we follow Him, even in improbable odds and through impossible obstacles.

I know what it is to worry about all of the things that will be. Right now it seems like we are looking at our nation and seeing a collapse of what is good, a wreckage of discord and hate. In some ways, no matter how the election turns out, it feels like defeat. This could cause us to give in to frustration and fear, throwing our hands up because the wrong-called-right and right-called-wrong is reigning in our land. The world seems scarier and scarier to me. Sometimes I want to take my kids, my family, and hide away from it all.

Abram could’ve thrown up his hands, letting Lot go. He could have said that it was too late. He could’ve feared the risk of losing what was his. He could have said the kings were too strong, the damage was done, it was all too far gone.

But he didn’t do that. He went after his family, believing that the power of God would enable him to take a stand against the enemy.

I have been reminding myself of this over and over again throughout this entire year: For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.

In a time that is difficult and confusion seems to carry the day, I’m watching as even members of the body of Christ turn against each other and followers of Christ turn against people in the world who don’t agree with them — people that are loved by God, people that are our neighbors, people we are supposed to love as we love ourselves.

And I’m wondering – are our eyes on the wrong things here? Are we looking so much at the events of this present world that we are forgetting Who we belong to and why we are here? Are we forgetting who the real enemy is? Are we forgetting those authorities of the unseen world that are wreaking havoc in our nation? Are we forgetting the weapons that God has given us for the purpose of bringing down strongholds? Are we forgetting the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, the belt of truth and armor of righteousness? Are we forgetting the peace of the gospel, the preparation to share the good news? Are we forgetting the fruit of the spirit, the long-suffering and the joy? Are we forgetting to pray for those who persecute us? Are we forgetting to speak up for the voiceless? Are we forgetting our great commission? Are we letting our fear silence us, control us, wring our hands with worry about the future?

Are we forgetting who we are in Him?

I don’t want to forget anymore, not even for a moment.

We are not hopeless and we are not helpless. We are the People of the Cross, the Redeemed who can boldly approach the throne of grace in our time of need. We are the citizens of a Kingdom that is not shaking and will not fall. We are the sons and daughters of a King whose reign is unquestionable and whose power enables us to overcome the darkness. We are a people of unity and have been given the ministry of reconciliation. Remember – there’s nothing too hard for Him! Remember – all things are possible to those who will believe!

Therefore – WE WILL NOT ACCEPT DEFEAT and we will NOT FEAR when we stand against the schemes of satan. We will NOT cower, but carry our cross with the strength He gives us. We will not timidly shine our light into the world. We will not compromise in love or in truth. We WILL continue to share the gospel of Jesus Christ, for it is still the power of God that brings salvation.

For those that we know are caught up in the chains and the traps of the enemy –it is the power of Jesus Christ that will release the captives and set the prisoners free. It is the power of Jesus Christ that opens blinded eyes and brings life from death. It is the power of Jesus Christ brings anyone that will believe into the family of God.

The election will come and the election will go, but GOD REMAINS. Whatever the outcome, we will trust Him in it. We will know that His purpose will endure. Our calling to work and build the Kingdom of God does not change…our calling to love does not change…our calling to be peacemakers does not change…our calling to live in grace, mercy, justice, holiness…none of these things are changing.

We are the bearers of the gospel, the sons and daughters of God with open hands overflowing with HOPE. His victory that is eternal – spanning far behind and beyond what we can see with our eyes – reigns in us. The Kingdom of Heaven –  that is righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit – reigns in us. We are the LIGHT OF THE WORLD.

He is still Emmanuel – God WITH us.  

The Lord is high above all nations, His glory above the heavens.
Who is like the Lord our God,
Who dwells on high, Who humbles Himself to behold
The things that are in the heavens and in the earth?-Psalm 113:4-6

Therefore, whom shall we fear and why should we be afraid?  The Lord is our light and salvation. The Lord is our stronghold. (from Psalm 27)

Be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power.-Ephesians 6:10

fullsizerender-17

Genesis 14:1-16

About this time war broke out in the region. King Amraphel of Babylonia, King Arioch of Ellasar, King Kedorlaomer of Elam, and King Tidal of Goiim  fought against King Bera of Sodom, King Birsha of Gomorrah, King Shinab of Admah, King Shemeber of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela (also called Zoar).

This second group of kings joined forces in Siddim Valley (that is, the valley of the Dead Sea). For twelve years they had been subject to King Kedorlaomer, but in the thirteenth year they rebelled against him.

One year later Kedorlaomer and his allies arrived and defeated the Rephaites at Ashteroth-karnaim, the Zuzites at Ham, the Emites at Shaveh-kiriathaim, and the Horites at Mount Seir, as far as El-paran at the edge of the wilderness. Then they turned back and came to En-mishpat (now called Kadesh) and conquered all the territory of the Amalekites, and also the Amorites living in Hazazon-tamar.

Then the rebel kings of Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboiim, and Bela (also called Zoar) prepared for battle in the valley of the Dead Sea. They fought against King Kedorlaomer of Elam, King Tidal of Goiim, King Amraphel of Babylonia, and King Arioch of Ellasar—four kings against five. As it happened, the valley of the Dead Sea was filled with tar pits. And as the army of the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah fled, some fell into the tar pits, while the rest escaped into the mountains. The victorious invaders then plundered Sodom and Gomorrah and headed for home, taking with them all the spoils of war and the food supplies. They also captured Lot—Abram’s nephew who lived in Sodom—and carried off everything he owned.

But one of Lot’s men escaped and reported everything to Abram the Hebrew, who was living near the oak grove belonging to Mamre the Amorite. Mamre and his relatives, Eshcol and Aner, were Abram’s allies.

When Abram heard that his nephew Lot had been captured, he mobilized the 318 trained men who had been born into his household. Then he pursued Kedorlaomer’s army until he caught up with them at Dan. There he divided his men and attacked during the night. Kedorlaomer’s army fled, but Abram chased them as far as Hobah, north of Damascus. Abram recovered all the goods that had been taken, and he brought back his nephew Lot with his possessions and all the women and other captives.