“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’

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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

“He’s Never Failed & He Won’t Start Now”

After the unexpected impact of Hurricane Matthew in our area, planned and unplanned days out of school for my kids, and a family trip…I am finding my footing again in a return to regular rhythms of life.

I am thankful for the routines, for the quiet corners of a day and moments to spend with Words that bring peace and life….especially because things feel hard right now. There’s a level of anxiety around us that is palpable.

This darkness tries to pull us in, this sinking feeling strong in this time when discord tries to win the day.

But, again — as many times as it takes — again and again and again — “I will stand my ground where hope can be found.” Again and again and again, I will put my trust in the Light that conquers darkness. I will put my faith in the One who is the Prince of Peace, the One who has already overcome. When I am uncertain and afraid  — I will sing praise. I will stake my life in His love.  When I feel helpless and small, I will remember that authority over nature and time, nations and governments, the church and our future, my family and my heart — it still belongs to God. It always has and always will.

In this time when everything feels mixed-up, I know that this is what I need: Prayer. Time to listen. Time to read His words to us. I need to see the world by His Light, by His truth.

On that note, I’ll pick up our daily readings again tomorrow…we’re in Genesis, walking alongside Abram.

For tonight…I think that the most useful and true thing I can say to myself and to you is this – it’s His presence that we need.

Forget the noise and the answers flying around and the dire predictions and the stress of what has been and what will be — let’s get away, find even just moments of silence, and turn our eyes to Him. He is our help. 

We need Him.

I pray that we will knock and find the door swinging wide open….listen and hear the still, small voice….lay down the burdens and pick up peace…

Father, we come to You.

 I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth. -Psalm 121:1-2

My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever.
-Psalms 73:26 

 

 

 

Together We Follow: Genesis 12:10

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Into the unknown, Abram followed God. Not knowing where the road would lead, he set off into the future. He believed the promise of blessing. He believed the promise of a homeland. He believed the promise of family and purpose. He believed God – so, with Sarai at his side, he left behind what was familiar…he chose the uncertain path, staking his life in the One who would go before him.

They entered into Canaan. They traveled through parts of the land, getting to know this new place. They made altars. They made camps. They began to settle in, with worship in their hearts.

And then?

Genesis 12:10:  At that time a severe famine struck the land of Canaan, forcing Abram to go down to Egypt, where he lived as a foreigner.

Famine.

How could this be?

In this place of promise, there was need. In this place where God had led them, there was barrenness. Where they expected blessing, hardship showed up.

Abram had another choice to make — would he keep Canaan as his goal? Would he hold onto what had been promised or  would he give up hope? Would he still accept what God had given, even when the gift held such a difficult season?

I don’t know about you – but if I’d been there with Abram and Sarai, I’m quite certain this turn of events would have unraveled my confidence in our decisions. I might have tried to turn back for the familiar home I’d left behind.

But Abram didn’t do that. Instead, he went into Egypt. And Genesis doesn’t say that Abram abandoned Canaan, finding a new home in that neighboring nation…no, he lived as a foreigner there. He wasn’t settling there, but only staying for a while.

Did they wonder why God allowed famine to come to Canaan at this time? I don’t know if Abram questioned it, but I do wonder at the timing. Knowing that God is good and His purpose was to reveal Himself to Abram and all of his descendants, I wonder what this famine was used to accomplish in the heart of Abram.

Perhaps He knew the time had come to show Abram that it wasn’t the blessing that was most important, but the Giver of the gifts. Perhaps God wanted Abram to learn that no matter the circumstances, He would remain with him.Perhaps He wanted to teach Abram that each step – when taken in obedience  – leads us closer to His full purpose. Situations may not look like what we imagined they would…but He uses each circumstance to strengthen, discipline, and deepen us.

This is how Abram kept his course – by looking to the One who had laid out the road before him. In times like these, we have to keep our eyes fixed on the Author and Finisher of our faith.

The enemy could have used this famine as a tactic to distract, discourage, and deter Abram from his relationship with God…I feel it’s pretty likely that he would have been working, all the while, to undermine Abram’s trust in God. I can almost hear his voice, whispering – go back. Go home. It’s safer there. It’s easier there. He brought you this far and for what? For famine? For failure? 

And they could have gone back…but they had set their hearts on the promises of God. They were no longer looking for what had been, but for what would be. A life fashioned from their own hands was no longer enough to satisfy their hearts — now that they had seen Him, now that they had heard His voice – they were looking for a home built by God.

Nothing else would satisfy.

*******

Have you ever been in a spot like this? Have you obeyed God, walked in His way, and found obstacles in your path? Have you listened and planted, worked and waited – only to have a field barren of harvest?

When He is silent…when the answers aren’t immediate…when the answers are not what we would have chosen…do we still trust Him?

What if we never see the reality of God’s promise or the harvest of our labor in this life-time?

Can we trust that His eternal vision sees the outcome we cannot? Can we trust that He is using our lives in ways we cannot yet understand, for this present time and the age to come? Can we hold onto what is yet unseen, trusting the reality of our eternal home that we will one day call our own?

Can we trust in His faithfulness, even when it feels like we have taken a detour that makes no sense, a circumstance that feels like setback, a fall that feels like failure?

I think we have to re-define our definition of success when it comes to our lives. Merriam Webster’s first explanation is this:  the fact of getting or achieving wealth, respect, or fame.

But what if success is actually, simply, the delight of our Father?

What if success is being content in all circumstances because of His presence?

What if success is laying ourselves down and picking up a cross, following Him?

What if success is seeking first the Kingdom of God, putting His name above our own?

What if success is finding joy and beauty in even the smallest moments of our lives?

What if success is being transformed more and more into His image?

What if success is the overflow of His love into the people He has placed on our path?

What if success is giving all – whole-hearted, whole-soul, whole-life to Him, with only the aim of pleasing Him?

What if success is walking with Him, not for what we will gain, but because we love Him?

What if success is developing faith that believes Him, chooses Him, reveals Him through our lives?

What if success is one day hearing ‘well done, good and faithful servant’, as we enter into the City of God?

Isn’t this the kind of success in which a heart can still sing in the midnight, in the storm, or in the famine?  Isn’t this the kind of success that brings real life?

I believe, with all my heart, that this is the only kind of success that satisfies our souls in every season of our lives.

We won’t understand every road we take, every turn or stop…but it isn’t our role to control the outcome of all that we do – that is the work of God and only He can do it in a way that will be both for our good and for His glory. It’s our role to keep trusting, to keep following, to keep obeying the One who loves us.

*****

If this is where we are right now — earnestly seeking to follow God and finding ourselves, still, in famine or fire, storm or desert, disaster or silence – I hope that we will remember that the One who called us to this place hasn’t gone anywhere. God is still here with us, even when it feels like we are walking away from what we thought would be our future…in the waiting and in the wandering, He is here.

So let’s learn this from Abram: don’t give up and don’t go back.

Don’t let the enemy dissuade or deter you. Don’t let anything talk you into going back to the way things were before…set your eyes on the One who will complete the work He has begun in you. No matter what – His promises are sure. He will do what He says He will do.

Hold onto tightly to your hope. Hang on, with all your heart, to your faith. Famine or plenty, Egypt or promised land, calm or storm, darkness or day – He remains. He stays the same…and He is the satisfaction of our souls.

 

So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold – though your faith is far more precious than mere gold.-1 Peter 1:6

All these people died still believing what God had promised them. They did not receive what was promised, but they saw it all from a distance and welcomed it. They agreed that they were foreigners and nomads here on earth. Obviously people who say such things are looking forward to a country they can call their own. If they had longed for the country they came from, they could have gone back. But they were looking for a better place, a heavenly homeland. That is why God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.-Hebrews 11: 13-16

We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies…

…That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.-2 Corinthians 3:8-10, 16-18