Friday, December 31, 2010

Reflections on 2010 and Dreams for 2011

I can't quite believe that it is already the end of 2010 and time to reflect on the past year. Yet, it is.

Last January I wrote that my word for 2010 was CONNECT. I think that in general I have reflected that well. We did make the move and that transition has required many, many connections. We have connected with a new church and a new house group that is a total blessing. We have connected with friends coming to stay with us and with other friends around the Thanksgiving table. We have connected with Chinese students by sharing our home and our Christmas with them. We have definitely taken more blessing than we could ever give as God gives us people with whom to share. I have helped Jewel and Flower connect to new friends and a new piano teacher. We will soon be connecting with a new home education group. I have not found a ladies bible study, but my goal is to find or start one soon.

As I wrote of the hope of connections in 2010, I had little contemplation for the disconnections that would have to come as well. We had to disconnect from beloved friends and a house group that was integral to our ministry. We found the courage and ability to disconnect from some hurtful relationships and from the hold of memory and tradition. We disconnected from a home we loved, to connect with another home only to be forced to disconnect again. It has been a difficult year of disconnecting, and I'm not sorry to see that part end.

Of course, when I wrote those plans in January I had no way of knowing that I would say good-bye to my mother in February. Disconnecting and reconnecting and finding new connections in the saying good-bye, seeing family at the funeral and adjusting in the months that have followed have re-defined the goal of connection this year. Yet I am finding the connection. Mom had boxes of family genealogy that she had done nothing with for years. Entering that research and finding the family roots have given a new connection in the time of loss.

So a year of connection comes to an end, but the connecting will continue. We look forward to 2011 of opening our home to ministry and seeing where God leads. But what else in 2011? Throughout Advent, I was drawn again and again to Luke 2:19

But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.

I believe that the words that God is giving me this year are PONDER and TREASURE. I see the new year of treasuring the blessing that bestowed, of rejoicing that He truly does bring beauty from ashes and that beauty must be treasured. I find more and more a need to ponder the glory of God and his amazing word. I want 2011 to be another year of Bible Memorization and study. I have missed being a part of a small group of ladies to study, and hope to seek that out this year. Our house group is centered on solid Bible Study, and the foundation of the new church is the Preaching and Teaching from the pulpit, so there is much to ponder. But one of my goals is to not have the pondering be limited to a cerebral exercise. I want it to be active and to be changing my actions as well as my thoughts.

So there are my dreams for 2011 in a nutshell--to treasure all God brings into my life and to ponder all he teaches me to move me to action. Thank you for being a part of my year of Connection in 2010. I pray that you have found a connection to the Saviour in these mere words I type each week. You are such a blessing to me!

Happy New Year 2011!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

In Other Words--Take Courage!

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“Have I not commanded you?
Be strong and courageous.
Do not be frightened,
and do not be dismayed,
for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

Joshua 1:9 ESV

Earlier this month, Jewel was writing a school report on courage inspired by a book she was reading. I asked her, as part of her report to define what courage was. She was to use a quote from the book to help her come up with her definition. Eventually, this is what she wrote:

Courage is doing what has to be done even when you are afraid.

Fear is a healthy reaction. Fear often keeps us from venturing into things that would be too dangerous for us to handle. It is our bodies natural defense to ask us to be on guard. The problem occurs when we allow the natural instinct to make the final decision, instead of adding rational reason to the decision-making. When we allow the emotion of fear to cripple our decisions and our moving forward, then we need to address a problem.

Courage says, "I see a reason to be afraid, and I will heed the warning, but I will move forward." Courage is hearing the sirens of alarm and using them to arm ourselves with understanding and awareness, but still going forward to accomplish what we need to do.

I have claimed this verse for the past two years of uncertainty with ministry, work and housing. They have brought immense encouragement in times of crippling fear. These verses remind me that I am commanded to move with courage not stand with fear.  I am sure I will claim them again and again as God continues to lead us into unknown areas of ministry.  I pray that even when I am afraid, I will find the courage to do what needs to be done.

Patricia at Typing One-Handed is today's hostess. Please go and visit the ladies who will be writing on today's verse and be blessed at how God is conquering fear and giving courage to his people.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Arrival at Advent

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Luke 2:1-20

We have arrived. It is Christmas morning. Just as Joseph and Mary had arrived in Bethlehem and were shown the stable. Just as Jesus arrived and was wrapped in swaddling clothes. Just as the shepherds arrived to give him honour. Just as the magi arrived to bring their gifts. We, too, have arrived.

But what do we do now that we are here? Do we forget the journey in the midst of tinsel and wrapping. Do we pack away Advent with the Christmas decorations only to bring it out again next year?

Or do we do what Mary did? Do we "treasure all these things and ponder them in [our] heart?" That is what I hope to do.

This journey has been about clearing out things that block the relationship. It has been about remembering the prophecy, and the message and the plan. But mostly it has been about changing my heart to be more available for the King to enter. And he doesn't just enter on Christmas morning. He enters every single moment of every single day.

2011 will be a year of "pondering and treasuring" for me. Holding fast to the truths he is revealing. I pray that you, too, have moments of pondering and treasuring.

Thank you for Journeying with Me.
Thank you for arriving at the manger with me.

May you and yours have the most Blessed of Days as we Celebrate the Coming of our King!

Merry Christmas!!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Journey to Advent--Day Twenty-four

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John 1:1-14

My Old Testament professor called this passage the theologians Christmas story. I prefer to think of it as the writer's Christmas story. A writer is immersed (or is it obsessed) with words. It is how we express ourselves. Words capture emotion, drama, fact and subtlety.

We know that God spoke the creation into being. His creativity flowed through his words. And then, that WORD, that creative force, became flesh. It became like humanity, only without sin. God's creative power became like me. Amazing!

Father, as I use my creativity to put words to paper and screen, may they reflect a little of your immense creativity. Thank you for your WORD. Help my words point people to your WORD. Amen.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Journey to Advent--Day Twenty-three

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Matthew 2:1-2, 9-11 The Visitors from the East

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.
After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh.

The visitors that came to the manger and to the home of Joseph, Mary and Jesus to celebrate his birth all tell us something about the inclusiveness of this Saviour that is born. The shepherds speak to the inclusion of the poor and those who live on the fringes of society. The visitors from the East, the wise men, show us the inclusion of the Gentiles. They show that we, non-Jews, will be welcomed by the Messiah.

Maybe it is that reason alone that the Eastern visitors are my favourite characters in the unfolding drama of Jesus’ birth.

But who were these visitors and would we see them as favourites if they showed up in our churches today? They were, in fact, star gazers. We would call them astrologers, or more derisively say that they were horoscope watchers/readers/believers. They watched for signs of major events and celebrated those events. When they saw the star they were not looking for a Messiah. They were watching for the celebrity happening of the time. They saw the sign and they loaded up their gifts and high-tailed it in the direction of the event. The star that was seen was interpreted to mean that a king had been born. The gifts were representative of what a king’s family would find acceptable. These stargazers were not looking for The King they were looking for a king. They were not excited about meeting a baby that would change history. No they thought that this moment was the event. They had no clue about a Messiah. This was all about importance of an earthly family. So, to answer the question, we probably would not be so excited to see them in our churches today. After all, they believe in the power of the stars and are looking to meet power and celebrity. We (okay I) would most likely look down our(my) nose and believe that they were not really sincere about Jesus.

It is at this point that the story gets the most interesting. They show up at the palace looking for the newborn king. Of course, there is no new born king at the palace. So inquiries are made. Finally an answer is obtained, “scripture says Bethlehem” the scribes announce. Now at this stage of the story I would think that those scribes, those people who knew the Jewish Scripture and who were, supposedly, looking forward to the day of the Messiah, would be getting excited. I would think that they would say “let’s go and see this thing that has happened.” But, that is not what happens. Instead they just send the Eastern visitors and King Herod says “bring me back a report.” So the Eastern visitors go, find Jesus and somehow in the midst of all of this recognize that this is bigger than just an earthly king being born. They bow and they worship him. They don’t just give him honour, they worship. And when the angel tells them not to go back to Herod, they recognize the message of God and heed it. Meanwhile, those scribes and advisers back at the palace remain clueless.

I wonder sometimes if we truly see the irony in this situation. The “star-readers” (say it with the derision we would feel) see the hand of God and honour Him. The “scribes” (say it with the reverence they would demand) miss that God is moving at all. Why is it that way? Why were the scribes blind to the truth and why did the Eastern visitors see it? I believe that some of it had to do with their willingness to see outside the box. The Eastern visitors were looking for new and wonderful and were willing to go to great lengths to find it. They had flexibility in their view to see a bigger or a different picture. But the scribes were narrow in their view. They understood what tradition said and therefore how the Messiah was supposed to look. They expected a conquering hero not a baby, and no matter how much the baby fit the profile of Scripture it did not fit the profile of tradition. Trusting tradition instead of trusting God caused them to miss the coming of the Messiah completely.

This holiday season, let’s not be so dependent upon tradition that we miss the wonder God may be showing us. Let’s open our eyes and our hearts to a broader view. We may even catch a glimpse of the Messiah that we’ve never seen before.

Father, help me to not to miss you in the midst of tradition. Open my eyes to see you in new ways. Amen.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Journey to Advent--Day Twenty-two

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Matthew 1:18-25

Joseph is the most intriguing figure at the Nativity to me. He didn't even get a personal angel visit--he only got a dream. But, that was enough for him to trust. Instead of a quiet divorce he accepted fatherhood. How that one dream changed all his dreams for his future! Yet, he accepted it all.

Michael Card, as he reflects on Joseph's thoughts in Joseph's Song, writes,
How can it be this baby in my arms
sleeping now, so peacefully.
The son of God, the angel said
how can it be?
Lord, I know he's not my own
Not of my flesh, not of my bone
Still Father let this baby be
The Son of my love.


Joseph demonstrates the righteousness that set him apart to be chosen to raise the Son of God as his earthly son. Chosen. Just as Mary was chosen. He demonstrates that righteousness in how he treated Mary and how he must have cared for Jesus, the Son of his love. He allowed his dreams to be altered by a dream.

Father, give me the courage when you change my dreams to accept the new path. Merge my dreams into yours. Amen.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

In Other Words--Heritage

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My mother had boxes of genealogy research that she boxed away in the early 80s when she became ill. These boxes are part of the heritage I inherited this year. German and I have been entering the information into the computer. At the same time we are exploring the research of his family that his aunt had given us. Using a popular search engine, we are amazed at the information we can receive. One of our favourite things to find is World War I Draft Registration cards because it gives height, build, eye colour and hair colour. We laugh at how the men on one side of my family all seem to have been "short" and "stocky" where his side seems to have all the red heads. Things we see in the current generations as well. We get a good sense of our physical heritage looking at these records.

But when we get more excited is when we get glimpses of the spiritual heritage. In German's family it is easier to trace--his Mennonite ancestors escaped Prussia looking for religious freedom. Yet somewhere along the way, the strength of faith faded. His grandfather and his father drifted from that heritage. The foundation was strong and in German found a way back home. I have taken for granted that faith is a part of my family's life. But recently I learned that my great grandfather, who I credit with being the foundation of faith, was actually disowned by his atheist father when he chose the church. Now I am even more curious. Who led him? What drew him? From where did the roots sprout?

As I learn of my physical heritage, I am inspired to search more for my spiritual heritage. It is also a reminder that I need to be teaching the spiritual heritage to my girls, so they know where their foundations were laid.

"It is important we don't get so caught up in our earthly suit that we miss our eternal heritage."
Wayne Corderio
For more thoughts on this incredible quote, visit Karen at In Love W.I.T.H. Jesus.

Journey to Advent--Day Twenty-one

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Hebrews 1:1-14

We are almost there. The day will soon arrive. All around us we are continually asking, "are you ready for Christmas?"

This passage asks us to instead inquire, "How is our perspective on Christmas?"

Are we focusing on the snow (dreaming of white) or focusing on the creator of snow?
Are we adoring the angels or the one they announced and bowed to in adoration?

We are reminded Jesus is above creation. He is superior to the angels. He is the begotten Son.

We must not lose the perspective.

Father, amidst the decorations and the dreams of the holiday, help me keep the perspective. Because of your sacrifice, Amen.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Journey to Advent--Day Twenty

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Psalm 96 A New Song for the Journey

I took my first journey to the cross via the manger thirty-five years ago. With thirty-five years practice, you would think that the journey to the manger would be easy. The songs I sing along the way, I should do by rote. The path should be memorized. But it's not. I still need to read the map of the gospels each time I take the journey. I still need a guide in the Holy Spirit to get me there. Leaders still point me in the right direction. I am still surprised by God all along the way. And He still teaches me new songs to sing.

"
Sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth. Sing to the Lord, praise His name; proclaim His salvation day after day."
~Psalm 96:1-2~
The psalmist does not advise us to sing last year's song or follow last year's path or do what is traditional. He does not make suggestions that perhaps it would be nice to do something new. Instead he commands that we are to sing a new song. A new song about the current journey. A new song celebrating the salvation that God is bringing into our lives now. A new offering of worship to Almighty God. Why a new song? Because we are new people. God is the only constant. We change. Our circumstances change. The specific blessings that God pours out into our lives evolve with what we need. We should not be standing in the same place we were standing a year ago. So the song of praise we could sing a year ago should not be the same song that we are singing now.

"Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all the people." (v 3)

As we grow in Christ we should be developing a deeper and deeper understanding of Him. We should be able to describe him in richer tones. The symphony of the song should grow from year to year as we add the layers of new understanding upon the old foundations. A new song that is our offering of worship in thanksgiving for what the Lord is doing in our lives.

"Ascribe to the Lord, O families of nations, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength. Ascribe to the Lord the glory due His name; bring an offering and come into His courts. Worship the Lord in the splendour of His holiness; tremble before Him, all the earth." (v 7-9)

I am grateful that I am not the same person I was when I started this journey thirty-five years ago. I am thankful that those first notes of praise are now fuller with the experiences of the journey. My song is richer than it was. But I am more grateful that the song is not finished. God is still adding lyrics. He continues to deepen the tones. And, by His grace, the song I sing next year (or five or ten or twenty years or as many years as He allows) will be new again.

This advent season, praise God for your new song...and sing it!!!

Father thank you for the lyrics to my song you added this year. Your provision, your protection and your love have sustained in ways that my heart cannot even articulate. The roots are so deep than cannot be voiced. Keep my heart open to receive the newest lyrics as they come. Amen.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Journey to Advent--Day Nineteen

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Luke 1:46-56

Everyone needs an Elizabeth in their life. Someone who has walked the path with God longer, who is able to give praise to God for what happens in their life and who is encouraging. Mary receives the word from Gabriel that Elizabeth is going to have a baby--so she sets off to visit her. Perhaps, Mary believes that Elizabeth will shield her from some of the scorn she is likely to encounter.

As soon as she arrives at Elizabeth's home, before she can even tell Elizabeth all that the angel said, she is greeted with acceptance. "Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb." Elizabeth knew. And she knew it was truly a miracle. What relief Mary must have felt.

That acceptance and that relief releases Mary to allow the Holy Spirit to pour through her. She prophecies. And she gives praise to God for the amazing things he is doing in her life for all of his people.

I am thankful that Mary had Elizabeth--and we get to see the result of that acceptance. I know that I have had times in the past when I knew God was calling me to some task, but it was only after someone else came alongside and verified that they saw the hand of God that I allowed myself to fully embrace the call. I have had my Elizabeths for whom I am grateful. I pray that I can also be the encourager in some one's life. I wonder if there is a Mary to whom I am called to be an Elizabeth? I wonder who needs my acceptance and encouragement. Praying for eyes to see and opportunities to encourage.

Father thank you for sending people alongside me in my journey to encourage me. Thank you for those who have accepted the ministries I have pursued and cheered me on. Give me eyes to see you at work in others. Loose my tongue to encourage those who need encouragement. Give me an accepting spirit of things you are doing in others. Amen.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Journey to Advent--Day Eighteen

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Luke 1:26-38

I think back to when I first suspected I was pregnant. I was excited and thrilled, but I was also apprehensive. What would German say? Were we ready? Did I have any idea how much our lives were about to change? But for all the apprehension, I had the security of a loving husband and a family who would be thrilled and a church that would support us.

Mary had none of that. She had Joseph, who was likely to be anything but thrilled that his betrothed was pregnant. She had a family that would most likely be scandalized. She had a community that would probably make her the subject of all the gossip for months and years to come. She had every reason to say "no way" and run off.

But she didn't. She stayed. She asked the most reasonable question she could ask, "how will this happen--I'm a virgin?" Then she agreed to be used by God, no matter the difficulties that would accompany the blessing.

I want to be that willing. I want to not focus on the "what ifs" and focus on God. That is my prayer this last week of Advent.

God make me willing to do whatever you call me to do and to go wherever you call me to go. I want a heart that is tender to your call. I want to be willing. Amen.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Journey to Advent--Day Seventeen

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Hebrews 10:11-25

I don't really understand the culture of a priests and daily sacrifices. I don't understand bringing my gift for someone else to take to the altar and offer it for me. I don't understand needing a human intermediary between me and God.

I don't understand that culture because Jesus changed it.

He came and upset the prevailing routine of sin-sacrifice-atonement-sin again-repeat. He made one sacrifice that was complete for all time. And then he said, that each of us who believe are covered by that sacrifice. All we have to do is come to him. If that isn't something to celebrate this Advent, I don't know what is!

This passage also reminds us that because we have the sacrifice we should encourage one another and assemble together. Not just for worship, but to help one another live lives worthy of the sacrifice. Who do you need to join with today and encourage them in their walk? Don't neglect it or put it off.

Father, thank you for giving your son to be the sacrifice. Thank you that no matter how many times I confess the same sin, the sacrifice is still complete. Thank you for looking at me through the blood of Jesus and not my own unworthiness. Help me to be an encourager to those I assemble with that we may all live lives worthy of you. Amen.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Journey to Advent--Day Sixteen

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Isaiah 2:1-5 Peace Comes to the Fields


“What do you think peace looks like?” Zeke asked unexpectedly.

“I don’t know,” Josh replied. “Sure doesn’t look like this.”

The boys sat on the wall. They were old enough to be men in the society they lived, but deep down they were still boys that wanted to run, joke with their friends and just play. Their childhoods were robbed of them. All they had really ever known was vigilance and ever-present danger. Even now, their spears were nearby, just in case. Enemy attacks were increasing. Their country’s little piece of land was situated in between much bigger political powers. They were the rope in the tug-of-war and people were tired and scared, but mainly they were just disheartened.

Zeke agreed. “Granddad tells of times of peace. When he and his friends would skip stones across the creek. He even tells stories of playing in the fields at night! I sure can’t imagine that.”

“Playing in the fields? You’re kidding. Those fields are so dangerous. You never know when you’ll come upon a spy camping out there. They are always watching you know.”

“Wonder what the fields looked like in Granddad’s day?”

“Dunno. Full of wheat or barley I’d guess.” Josh sighed. “Wouldn’t it be great to have just one field of wheat or barley? Why we could feed the whole town with that!”

They sat and mulled that thought a while longer. Neither of them had ever seen the fields ripe for harvest. Their lifetime had been one of scarcity. Too many risks to be out in the fields. Besides, all of the country’s resources were used for mere survival. Suddenly Josh sat up again. “Do you think we will ever see it, Zeke? Peace, I mean. Do you think that it will come to us? I really want something to believe in!” His hopeful look and wistful tone betrayed how deeply he needed to believe.

“I don’t know Josh. I don’t know. But that crazy prophet says that someday it will come. I sure hope he is right.”

“Me, too. Me, too.”

He'll settle things fairly between nations.
He'll make things right between many peoples.
They'll turn their swords into shovels,
their spears into hoes.
No more will nation fight nation;
they won't play war anymore.
Come, family of Jacob,
let's live in the light of God. Isaiah 2:3-5 (The Message)

Come and be the peace in my life Father God. Make me a conduit of your peace to others. Amen.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Journey to Advent--Day Fifteen

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We will soon encounter New Year's celebrations where will join hands and sing "Auld Lang Syne"

We'll take a cup o' kindness yet
For auld lang syne.

A cup of kindness for old times sake. Sounds wonderful when so often we encounter a world that is anything but kind. In fact, we are often confronted by downright mean attitudes.

But we don't have to wait for New Year for kindness and we don't have to settle for a cup. We have something better.
But when the kindness of God, our Saviour, and his love toward man appeared... (verse 4)

Jesus is the personification of God's kindness. He is the epitome of what kindness is. We receive this kindness not out of merit, but because of God's mercy. Because we receive it, we should also share it. When confronted by less than kind, let us pour out more than could ever be merited. Let us become a reflection of the personification of kindness.

Father, thank you that you do not limit me to a cup of kindness, but you gave it all in the form of Jesus. Help me to pass that kindness to others. Amen.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Journey to Advent--Day Fourteen

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Titus 2:11-15

"Live sobery and righteously and godly in this present world."
This is a great passage to remind us what our daily lives should display. It is a challenge throughout the year, one that is only accomplished with the Spirit's help. But this time of year it is even more of a struggle. Everything around us calls for excess--in food & drink, in spending, and in activity. We must heed the call to curtail the excess and live soberly and wisely. We have tremendous opportunities this time of year to display godlinesss and make a different impression. How we respond to the harried salesperson, to our stressed colleagues and to those who are hurting will demonstrate the love of God.

May our actions this Advent set us apart as sober & wise, righteous and godly.

Father, help us to live without excess this holiday. Help me to make wise decisions. Set apart my life as different that others may see you. Amen.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Journey to Advent--Day Thirteen

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Zephaniah 3:14-20 God's Song of Rejoicing

I remember clearly the first time that I read this passage that it had any real meaning. I was in my second year at University, in the middle of exams and tired. Although I would have never admitted it to my parents, what I really wanted was the comforts of home. But I was 400 miles from home and that was not a realistic option. As I visited with a friend about how to cope with the struggles of school, he read this passage to me. "The Lord your God is with you, He is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you. He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing." (verse 17) Somewhere in the midst of this passage I found the comforts of home. I did not need my childhood room or my parents or any of the other things that sounded so appealing at the time to be at peace, I only needed my heavenly father.

I was reminded of this same concept in the first few months of Jewel's life. She had difficult afternoons of colic where nothing would really satisfy her. But she would calm, if only temporarily, if I sang quietly into her ear. We would run through the gamut of every hymn I could remember as I tried to reassure her. And somewhere in the midst of her earthly parent's singing, she would find the comfort she needed to calm. I am sure at the same time my heavenly parent was singing to me to keep my heart calm to pass that on to her. What a beautiful reinforcement of his love!

In this passage, the prophet is actually pointing to the coming of the Messiah. It is a reminder that the time is coming when the Messiah will right the wrongs of the world. And it clearly shows the balance of God's character. Not only is he a mighty warrior, but he is also a loving father singing lullabies to his children. He not only comes to save us but to delight in us. And because of his coming we have no reason to fear.

As we are preparing our hearts to celebrate the Messiah's coming, let us not forget the loving character that he displays. Rejoice that he comes to save us! Rejoice that he comes to love us as well. I am sure, if we listen very quietly, we will hear him singing to us as we sing our praises to him this advent season.

Father thank you that you not only save me but you delight in who I am. Thank you for the way you sing lullabies to me in scripture and through others who love you. Quiet me this Advent so I can hear your song. Amen.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Journey to Advent--Day Twelve

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Luke 3:7-18

John watched the multitudes coming to be baptized and he knew that many of them came wanting a quick fix to escape wrath, but no real desire to change. He challenged them. He told them of the hard work they would need to do to change their actions and their motives. He told them to share their abundance with the poor. He told them not to cheat one another. He told them to not use violence. He told them to not depend on their ethnic heritage to protect them.

The days was coming when Jesus was going to come. He was going to separate the wheat from the chaff. He was going to separate pure from selfish motive. He was going to judge the heart.

That day is still coming.

I may not use violence to get my way, but do I use any form of intimidation or threat? It will be judged. Do I skimp in mercy with others? It will be judged. Am I generous in my abundance? It will be judged. Am I depending on the faith of my parents or a prayer said as a child and not on a day-by-day renewing faith? It will be judged. God sees the heart and it will be judged.

Am I ready?

Father, as we near the manger, continue to clear away the stubble in my heart. Take away the feelings of entitlement or superiority. Take away the selfishness. Remind me daily to depend on you for everything. Give me opportunities to be generous in my sharing of you this holiday season. Amen.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Journey to Advent--Day Eleven

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Isaiah 7:10-17

Ahaz is in trouble. Despite his obvious disobedience, God longs to rescue him and his people. God send the prophet to tell Ahaz to ask for a sign from God to show that he is with Ahaz. But Ahaz is not only disobedient, his is arrogant as well. And he refuses. Even as he claims that he "would not test God" that is indeed what he is doing.

The prophet is exasperated. But God gives a sign anyway. A sign of hope in the future. "Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel." (v 14) But it was also the foretelling of the destruction of Ahaz's kingdom before that time.

God offered a sign, but in arrogance Ahaz refused. God gave the sign anyway. We shake our heads in amazement that someone would refuse a sign from God. But... I wonder if I do not do the same.

God speaks to me in the Scripture, I close my Bible and do something else rather than hear him. He displays his glory in all creation and I rush past hardly giving it a glance. How many signs have I missed because of my busyness, my apathy and yes even my arrogance? I wonder...

Father God, help me to have eyes that see the signs of you all around me. As you prepare my heart of the coming of your son this Christmas, take away the arrogance that clouds my vision. Give me clear vision to see you. Amen.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Journey to Advent--Day Ten

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Isaiah 52:7-10 God Tidings

GOD Tidings to You!

What started out as a misspelling in my notes soon became the message that God was speaking to my heart. The prophet Isaiah in this passage is bringing more than good news, he is bringing God tidings. The message was clear. The Messiah was coming! The people would see Him with their own eyes. The nations would see His power. They would find salvation. There would be peace.

Good news indeed. And it was news that only God could bring. Peace. Salvation. They had heard the promises from kings and leaders who would forge alliances with would-be enemies and show off their power and wealth, only to fail or be conquered when the “friendships” waned. Worldly alliances don’t bring peace. The people had watched kings come and kings die, and they still found no peace. And, they had heard the prophet say that more captivity was to come. Yet this same prophet also spoke of the One to come who would bring them peace---God would reign and that meant peace. This message, this God tiding, must have been music to their ears.

Did you know that you, too, can bring God tidings? We live in a world that craves for peace. We hear the politicians make promises. We watch as the media report on this alliance or that peace accord, and then report of the failure of those alliances and accords. But where do we need to look to find peace? There is only one place to look, and that is to Jesus. He, the promised Messiah in Isaiah’s passage, came to conquer sin and make peace. He shows us His power in our lives by giving us peace even as the world rages on in despair. He is PEACE. And the world needs the message. We need to be sharing the message of peace. Who have you told today?

Share the GOD Tidings!

Father I pray that today you will bring one person into my life with whom I can share your God tidings, your good news. Give me eyes to recognize them and courage to speak. Thank you Jesus for being our Good News. Amen.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Journey to Advent--Day Nine

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Amos 6:1-7 Complacent Danger

This passage give me pause. I am often guilty of depending upon my life of ease. Difficult times for me are still times of comparative ease to many others throughout the world. It is easy to become complacent.

The warning is that complacency puts us in danger of depending on ourselves and ignoring God. That is what the rich of Amos' day had done. It is what happens in "rich" countries of the Western world in our time. It is what can happen in my life.

This Advent, let us heed the warning not to be complacent about our need for God.

Father God, thank you for the blessings in my life. Help me to never forget that they come from you. Keep my focus on you, the giver of the gift, and not on the gift itself. Drive the complacency of this world out of my heart. Amen.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

In Other Words--Prayer Changes Perspective

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“Prayer invites us to rest in the fact that God is in control, and the world’s problems are ultimately God’s, not ours. If I spend enough time with God, I will inevitably begin to look at the world from the point of view that more resembles God’s own. What is faith, after all but believing in advance what will only make sense in reverse.”
~Philip Yancey~
~From "Prayer: Does it Make Any Difference?"~
I remember distinctly lying in bed about eighteen months ago, with the crushing realisation that things were not going to change and we were not going to be able to continue to worship with the congregation that we had been with for over eight years. I remember singing Matt Redman's chorus "you give and take away" and through tears asking God to at least allow it to make sense someday. Those months of disillusionment and pain as theology and practicality divided were months spent on my knees more than any other time in my life. I so wanted to be in control of my destiny, and I had absolutely no control.

Now, looking in reverse, I see how much I learned about prayer during that time. My prayer "just allow it to make sense" has been answered but not how I expected. I have not received any lightening bolt revelations. Instead, I see day-by-day as we now worship with a different congregation how that experience changed my perspective. This congregation faced many of the same decisions that the old congregation faced. I'd venture to say that the same kind of divide was plausible here. But they made their choices from a platform of a different foundation--a platform of unquestioning love for one another. I see it, and I appreciate it in a way that I would not have at the beginning of this journey. When we ask questions that are fueled by our past experience, I hear answers that are fused with the new perspective I need. God is demonstrating to me that those months of crying out were used to re-focus the lenses of my heart to see his work in a new way.

I would have preferred to get here without the pain. But it was in the pain of the journey that I was able to yield the control to him and learn to trust him even more. Looking in reverse, the pain is not as crippling as I perceived it and had a purpose. So it is worth it.

Looking forward to 2011, I am sure there are things that are going to challenge my desire to control in my life. But the lessons learned in prayer during 2009 and 2010 have laid a foundation. I am certain that through prayer, my understanding of 2011 will be more and more through the eyes of the one who holds it is his hands. That is reason enough to persevere with prayer.

Father, thank you for using the pain of the past several months to change my perspective.  Thank you for allowing me to see glimplses of your work through your eyes. Continue to focus my heart to have spiritual eyes into the situations at hand. Amen.

Our wonderful hostess for this week is Debbie at Heart Choices.  You will be blessed if you visit.

Journey to Advent--Day Eight

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Isaiah 43:14-21 A New Thing

God through the prophet reminds us of his character. He reminds us of the deeds that he has accomplished in the past. He is the creator of all things. He is the one who destroyed Egypt's chariots in the river. There is no doubt of his mightiness of the past.

But the past is just that...the past. In verse 19 he tells us he is going to do a new thing. The things that were to come (a Messiah)were so great that the things of the past would pale.

We do well to remember this. Although it is good to think of the great things God has done in the past, we must not limit God to what he has done in the past. God is always doing new things. If we are too dependent on tradition of how God has already moved, we often miss how he is moving in the present. Prepare yourself to see God's new things.

Heavenly Father, prepare me this Advent for new things. Thank you for how you have moved in my past. I look forward to how you will move in my today and my future. Give me eyes to see you at work.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Journey to Advent--Day Seven

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Malachi 3:1-4  Cleansing and Refining

The prophet Malachi once again reminds us that we must prepare the way for God to come to us. That is the purpose of Advent--to clear away the things which clutter our relationship with him.

As we give a careful look at what clutters our path, we often find that it is our disobedience (sin) that keeps us from being ready. The problem is that we have no way to clear up our own sin. That is where Jesus comes in. He comes with the tools, his life, to cleanse us and to make us ready. Then, he does not stop with cleansing. He does not leave us in our raw form. Instead, he sits at the fire and burns away the dross, refining us to be of the highest value. How wonderful that he brings out our value. Are you ready to be made worthy for your King?

Father, clear away the sin and obstacles out of my life. Purify me. Cleanse me. I give myself to your refining fire. Bring about my value for you. Amen.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Marriage Monday--Joy for Two at Christmas



It is Marriage Monday again! This month we are focusing on keeping joy and celebration as a couple in the midst of the busy season. I have chosen the topic

12 Gifts (German) Loves that Don't Cost Extra Money

1. Unquestioning support
2. Hugs & Kisses
3. Respect and praise in front of my friends
4. Looking my best (especially at his company functions)
5. Doing the shopping without insisting on him going with me
6. Favourite meals scattered through the holidays
7. Chocolate Chip Treasure cookies (with a plate set aside just for him)
8. An uncluttered house
9. Time to listen
10. An extra game of pool after the kids have gone to bed
11. Quiet time of just being in the same space together
12. My initiative (ahem)

What no-extra-cost gifts can you give this year?

Join the fun today at Chrysalis to see what others are saying about Joy for Two in the Holidays.

Just an added note that Marriage Monday is taking a break in January and will return the first Monday of February.

Journey to Advent--Day Six

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Jeremiah 33:14-16 Prophecy is Still Valid Today

Jeremiah prophecies while confined in the court of the guard. The city of Jerusalem will soon be captured and people will go into exile. However, this message demonstrates hope. He states that the promise made to the house of Israel and to the house of Judah will be fulfilled: A King is coming with justice and peace will reign. How wonderful that must have sounded! Peace. Jerusalem would be safe. It was not at the moment. Nevertheless, safety would come.

The King did come, but not as they expected. King Jesus arrived as a baby. He conquered the enemy not with the sword but with His own death. Their safety and peace was not always physical, but spiritual.

What are we to make of this prophecy? We have the advantage of not only looking forward in Advent 2010 but also looking back to the birth of the King. We know the continuation of the story. We have Scripture to fill in missing details. So how does this speak to us this advent season? The first thing that I would note is to not miss to whom was the promise made. Although Jeremiah was speaking to the Southern kingdom, he made it clear that this was the promise to both Israel and Judah. It was for the whole of the then-divided kingdom. Advent is for the whole kingdom of God. None of us is beyond the promises that Jesus’ coming brings. Whether we are new believers or long-time followers of Christ, the promises are real for all of us. There was, and is, no discrimination in who can receive the promise.

Secondly, there is legitimacy of Jesus’ Kingship. To the Jewish audience of the time, the reference to David would emphasize his legitimate claim to rule. For us, I believe that it is a reminder that Jesus’ rule was ordained by God, long-before He came to earth. We live in a world of political pretenders vying for positions of leadership. Many have the legitimate desire to lead, but others are in the game for their own gain. Jesus’ claim to leadership was not for His gain. In fact, it cost Him everything to give us what we most needed—a means of getting to God. He has a legitimate claim to power, then and now.

Lastly, the promise of the prophecy is that the city of Jerusalem would live in safety. Living in safety is appealing. It is a scary world. Many things out there threaten our physical, emotional and psychological well-being. However, our ultimate safety is in the hands of the One who came! He cares for our needs in the here and now. However, the coming of the King was not for the temporal safety here on earth. He provided the way to have eternal safety in a new city. The blood of Jesus bought our safety. Therefore, we need not fear. Isaiah 43:1 tells us to “fear not for I [God] have redeemed you, I have summoned you by name and you are mine.” He will take care of His own.

Just as Jeremiah reminded the people of Judah that a King was coming to meet their needs and calm their fears, he reminds us of the same thing. The message is for us. His authority in our lives is legitimate and his sealing of our eternal safety is sure. What an amazing promise!

Father thank you that the message of hope spoken long ago is still a message of hope today. Thank you for being my King and preparing a place of safety for my future. Amen.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Journey to Advent--Day Five

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Isaiah 5:1-7 What's Wrong with the Vineyard?

As we approach today's passage we once again are reminded of the judgment of God. In the allegorical story of a vineyard that is not producing the right kind of fruit, we see the vineyard owner removing protection and allowing the vineyard to be destroyed.

An interesting story to read until we realize that we are the vineyard. We are the one that God has planted, protected and provided care. Our response to this care is to produce the right kind of fruit. But instead, we often produce sour, wild fruit that is not fit for the owner. In our attempts to produce our own kind of fruit, sometimes we are left to the consequences of those actions outside the protection of God's walls. Our fruit production (or lack of) can lead to our own destruction.

As we near the end of our first week of Advent, pause with me to contemplate what kind of fruit we are producing and make confession for sour fruit. Let us today renew our desires to produce the right kind of fruit for our King.

For the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, self-control; against such there is no law.
~Galatians 5:22-23~
Father, forgive the sour grapes and bitter fruit that I have so often produced. Prune away the things that keep me from producing good fruit. Please keep your protective walls around me and produce in me that which you desire to see. Amen.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Journey to Advent--Day Four

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Joel 2:1-11

Today's passage is a strong reminder that Advent is not all cuddly sheep and sweet-smelling babies. True there were sheep present near the stable, cuddly or not and there was certainly a baby. But the thrust of Jesus' being born was not about his babyhood, but about the role he would play in our lives.

He came as our Saviour.

He also came as our Judge.

With dramatic images of total destruction, the prophet Joel reminds his listeners and us as we listen in that judgment is coming and it will be complete.

In our journey to Advent, let us not forget the purpose of Jesus' coming. Let us not wrap him up in cotton wool to the point that he becomes innocuous. Let us remember his legitimate role as our Judge. May we prepare ourselves for such judgment and be thankful that the evil of the world will too come to reckoning on that day.

Father God, help me to not lose your Mighty Righteousness in the scenes of Christmas tinsel. Help me to remain cognizant of your power in my life. Forgive me when I fail at that and clothe me in Jesus' righteousness. Amen.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Journey to Advent--Day Three

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Ezekiel 2:1-7 A Rebellious Lot

Can you imagine the task set before Ezekiel? God said I'm sending you to a rebellious lot, and they may not listen to you but at least they will have had a prophet in their midst. Sounds like a joyous group to go before and speak.

Actually, it sounds a lot like our task today. We live in a world that often stubbornly opposes God's truth. The opposition is so great it is easier to say "Happy Holidays" and not "Merry Christmas" because the name of Christ might offend someone.

Yes, our world is a rebellious lot. It can be a daunting place to live out our faith.

But our job, just like Ezekiel's, is not to guarantee their response. Instead our call is to live and speak in such a way that our friends, co-workers and those with whom we interact will know that Christian has been among them. We need to live so they can see a difference.

Does anyone know that Christ has come among them when they speak with you?

Father, make me different so that others will knw tha you make the difference. May my life touch others with your love. Amen.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Journey to Advent--Day Two

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Isaiah 40:1-3

Make Way....

The whole point of Advent is to make way for Christ to enter into our hearts and into our holidays.

John the Baptist was the voice in the desert making way for the incarnate Christ to meet his people.

Isaiah foretold of this as he encouraged the people to take comfort in their sins being covered and prepare the way for the Messiah to come.

We, too, must make way in our lives. We, too, hear the good news that our sins are covered. We must set aside the second-guessing and guilt. We must set aside expectations and disappointments. We must set aside busyness and commercial pressure. We set aside the things that crowd our hearts and we make way to meet afresh a King born to redeem our sins.

Have you made way for your King?

Father clear away the mess I've collected over the year that clouds my vision of you. Forgive my mistrust and take away the things I put my trust in that are not you. Help me clear the way for my King. Amen.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Journey to Advent--Day One

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Isaiah 43:1-7

There are so many thing which can capture us in fear:
  • financial burdens
  • loneliness
  • health concerns
  • natural disasters

Fear abounds, but need not control. We as a people of faith and hope are commanded to not fear.

The thing about these verses is that the do not tell us to not fear because these things will not happen to us. Not at all. Instead it says, "when it happens" and "as you pass through it" to not fear. Why? Because He who has delivered entire nations will also deliver and protect us in our troubles.

On this first reading of Advent, join me in recognizing where fear has a grip. Surrender those things to the One who can manage them. Let us enter this Christmas season free from fear and filled with joy.

Father take away fear's grip on my life. Replace it with trust in you and fill my December with your joy. Amen.