Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The Best News - EVER!

"He came into the very world He created, but the world didn't recognize Him. He came to His own people, and even they rejected Him. But to all who believed Him and accepted Him, He gave the right to become children of God." John 1:10-12
On this morning, over 2000 years ago, the world received hope like they had never known before. That hope, in the form of a baby, was the greatest news we would ever receive. The news that even though we didn't deserve grace, we could, with childlike faith, simply believe and we would gain the right to be called His children. 
His tiny hands that stretched out towards his mother had created the world He entered and would eventually heal the sick and raise the dead to life. They would stretch out wide in the greatest sacrifice ever known in order to continue to offer hope to us here. Those hands would display the wounds of His suffering to the disbelieving after the tomb that held Him was found empty. 
Jesus even now sits at the right hand of His father God and beckons to us all with his beautiful scarred hands. So as you enjoy the wonder and magic of this Christmas season, especially through the eyes of a child, wonder also at the glory that is Christ Jesus
Jesus is Alive and it is the Best News EVER! 
Merry, Blessed Christmas from my family to yours!  


Monday, December 24, 2012

A Fresh Look at Advent - Part 4

Well friends, here we are - we've made it to Christmas Eve once again. In my home, if the cookies aren't baked by now and the gifts aren't wrapped by now, it's just not gonna happen. Ha!
I was up early this morning, enjoying my coffee by the fireplace before everyone else got up. It was lovely to sit alone for a few moments and reflect on the season. Our Decembers are always a bit frantic, much like Sherri's in part one of our Advent story. Between my wedding anniversary, my daughter's birthday, travel for her skating competition and the local ice show - Christmas could really get pushed to the side if we allowed it to happen. But thankfully, all three of us are committed to finding those pockets of time that let us sit quietly together and enjoy a cup of cocoa and some warm cookies. 

Jesus came to this world to give us life - and life abundant - not a crazy whirlwind of activity that leaves us panting for breath and pushes Him aside. 
So friends, my Christmas wish for you all is that you have opportunity to rest and reflect. And most of all to remember that Jesus came to be our light, our refuge and our salvation.
Last week, I shared Part 3 of a series I've been writing for my church this Advent season. Today's post is Part 4 of that series.  In case you missed Parts 1,2 and 3, here are the links to those posts:  
A Fresh Look at Advent - Part 1

A Fresh Look at Advent - Part 2

The story centers around one family, giving a glimpse at real life during this season. I invite you to read along as we find our way to the heart of Christmas.  

"The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly." - John 10:10

They could hear the sound of laughter as it carried down the hall from the kitchen. The scent of fresh baked gingerbread cookies came along with it as Sherri sat next to Jon on the sofa, reveling in the wonderful aroma and sounds of Christmas. The fire was warm and it felt so good to be enjoying this time of rest from their busy day. She snuggled a little deeper into Jon’s side and let out a contented sigh.

So much had happened over the course of the past few weeks that had completely reshaped the way they were all thinking about Christmas. Even with the tough things they’d had to deal with like Jon’s disappointment at work and Jenna’s concern for Ashley, their family had never felt the meaning of Advent more than this year.

Just hearing those girls laughing together again as they made the cookies – and probably a big mess –  was worth all that they’d dealt with this past week. When Jenna had come to her about Ashley’s troubled relationship, her heart had responded as if it were her own child. She had listened intently to what Jenna told her, and after praying about it and consulting Jon, she arranged to have Ashley and her Mom over for dinner the next night.

After their meal, all four women sat together in this room and not only opened up their hearts to each other, but opened God’s word and allowed his Holy Spirit to speak to them all. As Sherri had read aloud from the book of John, Chapter 10, great big tears had rolled down Ashley’s face when she got to the last part of verse 10. Jesus was talking to his disciples about how the thief comes to steal and destroy, but that He came to give life, and give it more abundantly. It was truly amazing to see how the Holy Spirit moved Ashley to see how being with Brian had stolen her away from her relationship with Christ. She recognized in that moment that she had been living anything but an abundant life – she’d been living a lie and it had made her miserable. Even better was seeing how Ashley opened up to her Mom and it was clear that their relationship was on its way to restoration and the healing only Jesus could bring.

As Jon held Sherri close, he was lost in his own thoughts as he recalled their evening of caroling with their church last night. He hadn’t been prepared for what he discovered as their group stopped in front of a plain brick home with a small covered porch. They’d been half-way through the first verse of Joy to the World when the front door opened and a man pushed a wheelchair out onto the porch. It was all Jon could do to keep singing as he realized that the man was his new boss Stan and the young girl in the wheelchair was obviously his daughter. She looked so tiny sitting in her chair, but as he discovered later, she was almost Jenna’s age.

As they’d stood on the porch, clearly enjoying the cheerful music, Jon observed how tender Stan was with his daughter. He’d bent down to pull the blanket tighter around her shoulders and kissed her cheek as she smiled with delight at the singers. Jon had that sick feeling in his gut again, but this time, he felt shame. Shame at his arrogance and pride that had kept him from feeling anything but anger at Stan.

Their group finished the carol and sang one more before they offered a Christmas greeting and started to move on. Jon quickly whispered to Sherri to go on with them that he would catch up and made it up the porch stairs in time to hold the door for Stan to wheel his daughter back inside their warm home. The two men stayed and talked together on the porch and through their conversation the Holy Spirit had opened up Jon’s eyes to all that he had been unwilling to see just a few weeks ago. 

Thinking back on it now, he’d missed so many clues that there was more to Stan’s life than met the eye. It turns out that the new job and position had come just in time to save their family from having to move – his daughter’s medical bills had eaten up all their savings and the blessing of his new benefits was giving them much needed breathing room at just the right time. All the brown bag lunches and the times Jon had seen Stan rush out of the office right at 5 all made sense to him now – and he could now see how the Lord’s hand had been in every bit of their work situation. Without a doubt he knew God was changing his heart and helping him to see that He did indeed work all things out for good – and to bring glory to himself. Christmas would never be the same for him again.

Sherri and Jon were both startled out of their reverie as Jenna and Ashley bounced into the family room carrying a plate of warm gingerbread cookies. The girls were talking excitedly about their school party the next day and they all laughed together as they planned what they were wearing for the Ugly Christmas Sweater contest. As they ate and talked, Ashley looked over at the nativity scene on the hearth and stared for a moment. Sherri saw the direction of her gaze and realized that Ashley had noticed that Baby Jesus was missing from the scene.

“So, I guess Jenna’s told you how we’ve lost Baby Jesus this year, huh?” Sherri asked Ashley. Ashley looked up at her and replied, “Actually no, Ms. Sherri, she hadn’t, but you know something? Your home doesn’t need a Baby Jesus figure to complete the nativity scene. Jesus lives in your hearts and anyone can see that.” 

 With a Courageous Heart, 

Friday, December 21, 2012

Pride and Prejudice

"Let your conversation be always full of grace." {Col. 4:6} 
I read an article yesterday - several articles actually - that really got under my skin.
This may come as no surprise to some of you - I get my news from many different sources and sadly, a lot of what I see and read just makes me boil sometimes. Thankfully I have friends and family who will let me vent my frustration and get it out. 
Yes, I'm one of THOSE people - the kind that needs to talk it out as I work it out. 
My husband still loves me - even after 21 years of living with that, so I can't be all bad, right? 
The verse from Colossians today is one that I think about a lot!
But it also applies very well to what caused me to need to post today. 

So anyway, when I get ticked off because of what I read, it's not always because of the actual story, but it's the response to the story presented that gets my goat. 
(For you GenY'ers, my Grandma used that to mean it irritates me.)
Wanna know why? 
Well, if you've read this far, then I'd guess yes - so here it is: 

Why do grown people feel the need to live and act as if they were still in high school? 
I mean, really, why do we think we have the right to be mean if we don't agree with someone?

Maybe it's because we live in an age of attack or be attacked. 
Maybe it's because we live in an age where if someone doesn't share your opinion, then they are wrong. 
Maybe it's because we live in an age where hypocrisy is king. 
And maybe, just maybe, it's because we have a pride problem.

That hits a little close to home doesn't it? 

You see, sometimes I think we - Christians, non-Christians, whatever; it applies to all, me as well - are presented with a set of circumstances that contain what we know in our core is truth. And because it's inconvenient and uncomfortable to examine our OWN life choices, we humans choose to mock and insult and attack what makes us uncomfortable. 

Here is the link to the article I read yesterday. It contains two other links that I read as well.
Take a minute and go read it. I'll wait here, I promise. 

Go on, read it.

Ok, so if you read it you know that this blogger is offended by a group of Christian parents' CHOICE to remove their kids from a California classroom that is teaching yoga. 
She's also offended by a Seattle Pastor who has spoken out on the practice of yoga.
I'm not here to discuss the merits/demerits of yoga. 
I'm not going to discuss the teaching of this Seattle Pastor. 
Whether I agree with those things or not is irrelevant to my message today. 

What smacked me in the face was the open disrespect, mockery and insults hurled at the Mom who was quoted in the article and at this Pastor in Seattle. 
And here is what really struck me - I quote "parents like (name removed) are freaking LUNATICS" 
and this - [Don't you want to]"at least ask them to stop making Christians look like total wackjobs?"

Those words were written by a professing Christ-follower according to her own bio.

"Let your conversation be always full of grace." {Col. 4:6}

It's easy to let ourselves get outraged these days. Easy to be offended. 
I wonder though - and this is just me talking it out - shouldn't we as Christians seek to understand the circumstances before we form an opinion
Listen, there are a whole lot of worms in this can and there is not time or room to examine them all today - but here is my thought process on this part of it:

1) We don't necessarily have the entire story from that newspaper article. As a former cop, I KNOW there is always more to the story than meets the eye.
2) Why is this particular parental choice any different than opting out of say, a sex-ed class? (lawsuit threats aside.) 
3) Why does the choice of these parents and the words of this Pastor make "Christians look like total wackjobs"? That's a pretty broad brush. 

There were a lot, and I mean a LOT of comments on that posting. And many of them displayed the same un-gracious verbage. But I think the blogger defines herself pretty well in her Facebook defense of her post
"Look. If you're mad because {we} use the abbreviations "OMG" and "WTF" please see yourself out now, and save us all the heartache. Our page is not and will never be a match for you. {We} believe there are bigger things in this world to worry about than yoga and cuss words. We are always going to call it like we see it, and sometimes, we see stuff that drives us to use salty language. God knows this about us. He made us this way. :) We also believe that God isn't going to get mad at us for stretching and saying "Ommm" every now and then. If you personally don't want to do yoga because you're afraid it goes against the bible, then don't do it. But for crying out loud, calling us out for being pagans or saying we are "rotten fruit" or whatever else? Yeah - YOU are who I blame for the fact that conservatives and Christians get a bad rap these days."

There's a lot I could say about that, but my words are an inadequate response. 
I know what is a more than adequate response though - the ultimate source of correct response - the Bible, God's word.

"The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks." {Luke 6:45}

"With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be." {James 3:9-10}

And as if God wasn't direct enough already with his instruction for us here is one more:    

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye." {Matthew 7:1-5}

Bottom line is that we are ALL sinners. We ALL make poor choices. We ALL say things that are hurtful, mean and un-gracious. 
Which is why we ALL need the Savior - Jesus Christ. 

As bloggers, we have a wide audience - some wider than others, and we never know who is reading what we write. As Christian bloggers, we have a responsibility to Christ to shine His light in our dark world. 
Please pray for me dear friends that my words written here - or anywhere else for that matter - will always seek to build someone up and point them to the cross of Christ. Pray that He will choose to bless my ministry as He sees fit. 
I ask you to also join me in praying for the blogger(s) I've written about today. That God will bless them and use the gift of their audience to further His kingdom and be an encouragement to their readers. 

With a Courageous Heart, 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

A Fresh Look at Advent - Part 3

Well, here we are, in the middle of the Advent season, just 6 days until Christmas. 
Are things starting to feel, well, a little more "Christmasy" around your home this week? 
I know they are in my home - in fact, today is Baking Day! It's going to smell a lot more like Christmas this evening with all the fresh baked cookies hanging out in the kitchen. 
Let's just hope that they last until Christmas!  

Last week, I shared Part 2 of a series I've been writing for my church this Advent season. Today's post is Part 3 of that series.  In case you missed Parts 1 and 2, here are the links to that post:  
A Fresh Look at Advent - Part 1

A Fresh Look at Advent - Part 2
  The story centers around one family, giving a glimpse at real life during this season. I invite you to read along as we find our way to the heart of Christmas. 

"He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed" - Luke 4:18

Her phone was buzzing again as it lay there on the coffee table. It was the third text in as many minutes and she knew without even looking who it was from. “Grrr…I don’t feel like talking right now, Ash!” Jenna said with frustration as she picked up the phone.  Ashley might be her best friend, but right now she couldn’t handle a conversation with her.

Their argument yesterday at the gym rolled through her mind again – actually, she hadn’t stopped thinking about it at all. Her heart was just sick as she recalled the angry words they’d exchanged. She and Ashley had been friends since they were 7, meeting at the gym in their first tumbling class. They had been pretty much inseparable ever since. Where you would find one, you most likely would find the other. That is until Brian came along.

Brian and Ashley had started going out at the beginning of the school year. As a sophomore, Ash couldn’t believe that someone like Brian – a senior – would be interested in her.  Jenna knew better though. Even if Ash didn’t realize, it was obvious that every guy in school would have killed to get next to her. In fact, many of them had tried, only to discover that she wasn’t the kind of girl they were looking for. One of the things Jenna loved most about Ashley was that as beautiful as she was on the outside, she was just as beautiful on the inside. Their friendship had grown strong over the fact that they both loved the Lord. They had always been active in their church’s youth group and had even gone on a few mission trips together. But all that changed when Ash started seeing Brian.

Everyone at school knew him – being the captain of the basketball team in a school that lived and died by its wins and losses, he was pretty much the BMOC. Brian had it all when you looked at the outside; good looking, nice car, rich parents and unbelievably good grades. But it was the Brian that Ashley had come to know that had Jenna worried. If everyone knew what he was really like, some of the stuff he was into, they’d all be surprised. That was what their argument had been about yesterday. And it was killing her because there seemed to be nothing she’d been able to say to change Ash’s mind about her decision.

“I love him Jenna. He loves me too, how can it be wrong?” Ashley had repeated that several times during their fight, almost as if she was convincing herself of its truth. “You know, he’s going to break up with me if I don’t and I know I can’t handle that Jen. It’s almost Christmas, how would you feel?”

Jenna sat up in her beanbag chair and stared at the fireplace. How would she feel? That was a great question. Just two weeks now until Christmas. She loved this season - this year more than ever. Her parents had sat her down last week and told her what was up with them lately, how they’d both pushed Jesus aside because they’d been focused on all the wrong things. She got that; was seeing it now with Ash. Jenna looked over at the nativity scene on their hearth and saw that Baby Jesus was still missing– she remembered her Mom sitting on the floor with all of the Christmas garland piled up around her – that had been kind of funny.  The manger looked weird without Jesus in it and the other figures seemed pretty lonely without him there. Guess that’s how we’d all feel if Jesus was missing from our lives, Jenna thought to herself. I know he’s not been on Ash’s mind lately. It was all about Brian, nothing but Brian 24/7. It was almost like he was holding her prisoner.

“I just don’t get it” Jenna said as she looked at the phone in her hand, “how can she be so blind?”   
“She just doesn’t see it, Lord”, Jenna prayed. “She doesn’t see how bad she’s caught up in Brian’s world. Is this what it means to be unequally yoked? Or is that just for marriage? Either way, God, she’s tied her life all up in his and I’m so afraid for her. He’s just dragging her down and now, Lord, she’s about to make the worst decision of her life. I don’t know how to stop her, she wouldn’t listen to me yesterday and now she’s texting me again. What do I say? Please, Lord, show me what to do. She needs you now more than ever. Your word says that you came to set the captives free and if she’s not a captive to Brian then I don’t know what to call it.”

Just then, Jenna heard her Mom in the hallway, calling for her Dad to come help her with something outside. Mom was awesome, really. She’d always been able to talk to her about anything. She didn’t freak out like Ashley’s Mom over little stuff. What was cool – though she’d never tell her Mom this – was that she had a way of getting her to make good choices without telling her what to do. And they prayed together, which just made them closer and Jenna knew that was special.

It suddenly occurred to Jenna that there was her answer – at least a start – go talk to her Mom. She would know just what to say and she would listen and pray over it with her. Even though she’d be heartbroken for Ashley, she’d be calm about it all and help her figure out what to do next.

“Lord, thank you for my Mom and thank you that I can tell her anything. I know you don’t want Ashley to walk any further away from you, and I trust you now to draw her back. Use me, Jesus, to show her that you don’t need to be missing from her life anymore.” With that, Jenna got up, took her Bible off the table and headed down the hall to find her Mom.

With a Courageous Heart,