Jeremiah 29:11: For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future."

Monday, December 23, 2013

The Exchange

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Today we're having a gift exchange at my work.  There's a luncheon party during which the gift exchange will take place.  Of course we all wanted to give everyone gifts, but none of us have that much money, so we settle for each drawing a name and buying a gift for that person.  The season is filled with various exchanges of gifts.

Perhaps that is why these words of Futon J. Sheen captivated me when I read them this morning:

"Sanctity is not giving up the world. It is exchanging the world. It is a continuation of that sublime transaction of the incarnation in which Christ said to man: "You give me your humanity and I give you my divinity. You give me your time, I will give you my eternity.  You give me your bonds, I will give you my omnipotence.  You give me your slavery, I give you my freedom. You give me your death, I give you my life. You give me your nothingness, I give you my all."

Wonderful scriptures such as Titus 2:11-14, 2 Corinthians 3:17-18 and Romans 12:1-3 describe this exchange process.  My experience has been that it really is a process, not a one time thing. As I read Sheen's words, and meditate on these scriptures, it's more than I can understand.  God is so good and I am so grateful.

Oh Father, may I choose today to be mindful of You throughout the day.  May I constantly choose to exchange my ways for yours.  Help me understand how to embrace what you've done for me.  Help me be your person in my life, extending your love, comfort and assistance to those around me.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Singing praises - Advent day 17

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Advent is about Jesus.  John the Baptist was the one who prepared the way for Jesus’ earthly ministry.  Luke 1:5-25 is the account of how God told John the Baptist’s parents about him before he was born.  John the Baptist’s mother was named Elizabeth. What strikes me as I’m thinking about this passage this advent season is how Elizabeth felt.   In the end of verse 25 of this passage she says:

“In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.”

Prior to this blessing from God, Elizabeth was barren and felt disgraced.  This has got me to  thinking about the times when I’ve felt that my life was barren.

Elizabeth was barren in a physical sense because she was without child.  I've been barren at times in my life in a spiritual sense. "Barren" means "to be rooted, sterile, dry, bereaved".  When a person is spiritually and emotionally barren she is sorrowful, depressed, cast down. She can also be distracted and have an ungrateful spirit.  This kind of state of being robs one of the spiritual liberty and joy which Jesus came to provide for His people.  A barren Christian is one who is in a rut, who is rooted in the wrong place.

Isaiah 54:1-6 is an incredible scripture in light of the fact that I can fall into a rut and become rooted in a spiritual barren place.  It beautifully describes God's redemption and provision.  It describes how God will do more for us than we ever imagined.  This passage also directs Israel, or me today as His follower, to sing praises to God.

This morning I got up extra early.  I wanted to make time for singing praises to God. I'm not really much of a morning person but after spending time in singing praises to God I found my spirit lifted and my heart changed to one of gratitude.

Oh Father, You're so worthy of praise.  May my attitude be one of appreciation for all you've done for me.  May words of thankfulness constantly be on my lips today.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Can I see God? - Advent day 14

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Throughout the advent season there exists the four-fold juxtaposition of Jesus.  Jesus foretold of in the old
testament.  Jesus who was born to this earth as a human.  Jesus who will come again.  Jesus who is the king of my heart and life.

Throughout all four contexts there always runs the theme of the question.  The question of if we see Jesus.

Scriptures such as Psalm 80:1-20 depict Israel's plea to God to see them and restore them.  Historically we know that it was not God who left Israel, it was the nation who chose to turn their backs on Him.  I look in Matthew 13:55-57 and see how when Jesus walked among us, people in his own home town did not recognize Him as the awaited Messiah.  Even when Jesus was doing miracles, they wrote Him and His miraculous actions off.  In Matthew 17:1-13 I read about the transfiguration.  In the second half of the 11th verse through the 13th verse I read these words of Jesus:

“To be sure, Elijah comes and will restore all things. 12 But I tell you, Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but have done to him everything they wished. In the same way the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands.” 13 Then the disciples understood that he was talking to them about John the Baptist.

Jesus was talking about how God's prophet, and then God Himself, was with the people but they did not even see Him.

How often do I miss seeing God?  How often is He working but I miss it because I'm so involved in my own agenda?

May God's Holy Spirit in me sharpen my ability to see God and His work in the world around me.

Oh Father, thank You for Jesus.  Thank You that You came to this earth.  I'm sorry that we missed you then and that I miss you so often today.  Help me to stop missing you.  Change me from the inside out so that I can see you working around me.  Help me participate with You in the work You're doing around me daily in my world.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Hope for God’s reign of justice and mercy - Advent day 11

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Thinking about this advent season I re-read the wonderful praises of Mary after she had found out that she would be the mother of the Savior:

I’m bursting with God-news;
    I’m dancing the song of my Savior God.
God took one good look at me, and look what happened—
    I’m the most fortunate woman on earth!
What God has done for me will never be forgotten,
    the God whose very name is holy, set apart from all others.
His mercy flows in wave after wave
    on those who are in awe before him.
He bared his arm and showed his strength,
    scattered the bluffing braggarts.
He knocked tyrants off their high horses,
    pulled victims out of the mud.
The starving poor sat down to a banquet;
    the callous rich were left out in the cold.
He embraced his chosen child, Israel;
    he remembered and piled on the mercies, piled them high.
It’s exactly what he promised,
    beginning with Abraham and right up to now.

Luke 1:46-55 (MSG) 

These aren't exactly the typical words of an expectant mother.  These are the words of a very Jewish Mary who had grown up learning about the Savior who was to come to Israel.  These are the words of Mary the woman who lived as part of people who were under the rule of another nation.

Yet these are my words too.  I live in a world that is not under the captivity of another government, but that is tyrannized by sin.  Scriptures such as Isaiah 11:1-20 which foretell of Jesus the Savior, talk about both his first coming through the virgin birth as well as his second coming. Jesus' birth brings hope.  Hope for God's reign of justice and mercy.   

Because I'm a follower of Jesus, I need to be a part of His kingdom way of life; justice and mercy need to be guidelines in my daily life.

Megan McKenna, wrote a book Send My Roots Rain.  In it she defines justice and mercy.  I found her definitions thought provoking.  Here's what she says about justice:

"Justice, peace, and the poor are the strands of a single braid that
ties all together in the world and ties us in turn to God. The
definition of justice that I most often use is this: justice is love
expressed in terms of sheer human need: food, water, clothing,
shelter, medicine and health care, education, human rights and
freedom, hope for a future for one's children, freedom from fear and
violence, the dignity of work, and participation in society and
history. Our lives are made of justice. Our moral and ethical choices
are first of all about justice. Our relationships must be steeped in
justice, or terror and violence begin to reign on earth and
destruction inevitably follows."

Here are her thoughts about mercy:

“Mercy is the rain of God, the reign of God, the rein of God. Mercy
gives birth out of death. Mercy comforts and fills up with what is
lacking. Mercy heals. Mercy not only forgets but remembers, re-members
and puts back together better than originally. Mercy is best described
by poetry, by music, by psalm, prayer, story, and silence. Mercy is
the echo of the holy lingering, absent still among us. Mercy is God's
hope and prayer for us."

I'm reminded of these words from Micah 6:8:

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
    And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
    and to walk humbly with your God.

 I'm challenged today to be on the look out for opportunities to participate in God's justice and to extend mercy.

Oh Father, I thank You for Jesus.  I recognize that I need You.  May your holy spirit in me rise up big and help me to see the world around me as you do.  May I experience ways today for you to extend justice and mercy through me.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Avent Day 10

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Advent is a time when I remember that Israel longed for the birth of the Messiah.  It’s a time when I ponder what it means for the Messiah to have come and to be real in my life.  Passages such as Isaiah 40:3-11 and Isaiah 61:1-7 provide beautiful pictures of this double truth.  Jesus was the awaited Messiah.  As I celebrate advent and remember His birth, He is my Messiah.

Portions of the Isaiah 61 passage, the 2nd half of the first verse through the first half of the third verse, in the Message paraphrase capture my attention today:

He sent me to preach good news to the poor,
    heal the heartbroken,
Announce freedom to all captives,
    pardon all prisoners.
GOD sent me to announce the year of his grace—
 a celebration of God’s destruction of our enemies—
    and to comfort all who mourn,
To care for the needs of all who mourn in Zion,

I’ve accepted Jesus as my Messiah; my savior and my Lord.  This means
I’m to participate in His work in my world today.  Who are the broken
hearted around me?  Where do I come in contact with people who are
captives and prisoners?  Who does He want me to announce His grace and
bring comfort to?

Father, help me see this very day who these people are that you are
bringing into my life.  May I not miss any opportunities to be used by
you to bring healing, comfort, encouragement and hope to the people
with whom I am in contact today.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Advent Day 5 - The unexpected Christ

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As I was reading an advent devotional these words struck a chord for me:

 “God certainly does awesome deeds that we could not expect.” 

I find this true repeatedly.

No time more so than in the birth of Christ. Luke 2:1-7 describes the humble circumstances of Jesus’ birth. In the first chapter of Genesis I see Jesus present in creation. In Scriptures such as Jude 1:25, Revelation 4, and Revelation 5:6-14 I see God’s glory in Jesus.  These scriptures show that Jesus is the all powerful creator and worthy of worship.   Yet God chose to separate Himself and take on the form of a mere human.  He even chose to be a human of lowly origin.  

My husband John and I were just talking the other night about how the humbleness of Jesus’ birth is so different than how we think as humans.  Perhaps by sending Jesus in a lowly condition God is reminding us of our extreme need. Jesus came humbly because he stood in the place of people who had been brought low by sin. It may be that we need a reminder of our lowliness whenever God visits us so that we won’t be tempted to think that God's mercy reflects well on us. May I never think that I gratify God by my worship or good deeds May I never turn God's grace into grounds for boasting. Jesus the Savior in the manger reminds me that Jesus' birth was all about God's condescension, not my deserving.  

God continues to do things differently than I expect.  I want to be strong and good for His glory.  Instead I mess up all the time.  Then I see in Scriptures such as Matthew 5:2-3 and 2 Corinthians 12:5-10 that when I am at my weakest it is a good thing, because then I can give it all over to Him.  When I am weak and humbled I can let go and let Him do the work through me.

These thoughts encourage me.  My life is normally busy; family, work, school, ministry.   The advent season then brings extra things.  Things which are a blessing but I’m starting to feel that overwhelming feeling – how can I do it all?  I’m starting to feel totally inadequate.  Meditating on who Jesus is and how He came to earth, and about how God does things in unexpected ways, helps put matters into perspective for me.  It makes me realize anew that it’s not about me.  It’s about God and His plan.  It’s about me just looking to Him for what He wants me to do.  Looking to Him for the strength to do those things.  Looking for Him to do His work through me.

Oh Father, You know I can’t do this on my own. Please teach me how to let You work through me.  Help me learn how to depend on You in every situation.  Thank You that You do great and mighty things and even choose to use lowly people like me.  May your will be done in my life today.  

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Advent Day 2 - Waiting on Christ

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The theme of waiting is throughout the advent season.  Thoughts of how the nation of Israel awaited Jesus their Messiah.  We wait for Christmas, the day that symbolizes the birth of Jesus.  Psalm 27:10-14 encourages a lifestyle of waiting on God.  Especially verse 14:

Wait patiently for the Lord.
    Be brave and courageous.
    Yes, wait patiently for the Lord

Matthew 24: 36-42 speaks about waiting on Jesus' return to this earth.

One advent devotional that I read talked about how this waiting is not in a manner of seeking mindless
distractions to numb out as you do when you're waiting in a doctor's office.  Waiting on God is a kind of waiting that generates hope and renews strength. Waiting is not necessarily resignation from all activity; it
is submission to God's better idea. Waiting on God means that all of our life is brought under God's umbrella of authority and direction.

So I started thinking about what waiting on God really means for me in my life today.  I came up with two things:

1.  To not give up hope on those situations that seem like God's not gonna come through in the way I'd wanted.  The big area like this for me is my messed up family of origin.  I've written here before about my sister who is mentally ill.  As I was thinking on waiting I realized that I'd kind of given up on my family, figured this is just how it is. When I went through the Scriptures and prayers related to waiting earlier in the day I prayed for God to enlighten my heart as to what He wants from me with regard to waiting. Later in the day the thought came to me that I need to wait on Him with regard to my family of origin.  To continue praying for them and look to see what only He can do in this situation.

2. To wait on Him to make me right inside.  Just last night someone who I'm working with in ministry did something that hurt my feelings. It was just a little thing that I'm embarrassed to admit that I was hurt.  I ignored it and acted like I didn't even notice but then when I got home I found myself feeling angry and as  tried to figure out what was going on I realized that I felt hurt and disappointed by what this sister had done.  I don't know if I'll ever speak on it to the sister that inadvertently hurt my feelings, but I do know that I need to wait on God.  To give my feelings, expectations, and whole heart to Him.  To wait on Him for healing and direction.  Truth is that I don't want to be someone who gets her feelings hurt; truth is I'm human and our fragile feelings are part of the human condition.

Oh Father, may I learn how to wait on You.  Because You are my source.  You are my hope.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Advent day 1 - The Light of Christ

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At the beginning of this season of advent I want to go deeper into Christ.

This morning I'm thinking about those verses from John 1:1-4 about how Jesus came to be a light.  Our world is dark with the influence of sin and we need His light.  I also personally need His light. 

This morning the author of a first day of advent devotional that I read talked about how in our cities we can't see the light from the stars because there is too much competition with the city lights.  He challenged me to make sure I'm not too distracted by the glare of the computer, my blackberry, or the television to be able to see the light of Christ.

Father, may this season of advent be a time when I let my heart become more wholly yours.  Show me what things are distracting me from You.  Help me set those things aside so that I may see Your light more clearly. May seeing Your light help me also see other people as You do.  May I see the people who are in my life each day and not miss out on any opportunities that you bring my way to reach out and bless them.  Thank you for being my light.  Thank You that You, the great big God of the universe, want me to draw near to You.  I can never thank You enough.
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