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Fish Symbol on CrossI want to be your encourager today–the one who reminds you that Christmas is the day Eternity entered the world…that moment when the Holy One stepped away from God’s glory to lay shivering a midst the squalor and stench of man’s inhospitable world.  For within that unremarkable town in an unknown stable, a young woman wrapped filthy rags around the King-turned-flesh.

And she must have wept tears of joy…and sorrow–knowing that God’s Miracle-child had been meant for more.  The world should have received the Lion-made-Lamb with shouts of praise and proclamations of the Messiah’s arrival!  God incarnate should have been wrapped in blankets of silk stitched together with threads of gold and silver!

Yet for thirty-three years, Jesus lay his crown of glory aside.  The one who breathed life into the spirit of man gave up His glory the moment the power of the Most High stirred life in the virgin’s womb.  Why?  Because of love.  Nothing more.

Dear friend, Eternity entered the world that we might have eternity.  But not just any eternity, nor an eternity spent shivering in a place of corruption…a place without the Lion-made-Lamb. He lived a man’s life–from cradle to cross–with you and me in mind so that we might experience Eternity himself.

It was His plan all along–this quiet redemption.  His impoverished birth for our heavenly re-birth.  His tattered swaddling clothes for our white robes.  His unheralded nativity for our celebrated homecoming.

The day Eternity entered the world is much more that Christmas–it is Christ.

Verses for Reflection

The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called[a] the Son of God.  (Luke 1:35)

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! (2 Cor. 5:17)

After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, … (Revelation 7:9-17)

Living Prayers

God shapes the world by prayer.  Prayers are deathless.  The lips that uttered them may be closed in death, the heart that that felt them may have ceased to beat, but the prayers live before God, and God’s heart is set on them.  Prayers outlive the lives of those who uttered them; outlive a generation, outlive an age, outlive a world.  –E.M. Bounds

If you have a share in a story like mine, you understand the pain of loving a prodigal.  Your prodigal might be a spouse, a parent–or, like so many, a treasured and precious child. I know my experience is far from singular.

The Christian speaker’s adult child has turned from God to alcohol….the Sunday School teacher’s son glares at the clock as the passing of each day reminds him the iron bars are a visual representation of  choices that have bound him to more than this place…the adopted child raised “in the fear and admonition of The Lord” lives for the next high…and, for at least the last four years my own son has walked a painful path–his soul searching for fulfillment in a lifestyle devoid of the God he trusted as an innocent boy.

And that painful path?  He may not realize it….or may even resent it–but, my heart has been with him the entire time.  Like Mary, I feel “as if a sword had pierced my own soul”.  But, I refuse to give up the fight for this is “not a battle against flesh and blood…but against the powers of this dark world”.

Above all, I know that neither your prodigal nor mine wanders alone.  In the dead of the night…when the lion of this world prowls about seeking to satisfy his gluttonous hunger, the Lion of Judah stands strong and vigilant–the eternal victor who “will contend with those contend with you, and your children I will save”.

Be encouraged, Friend, and continue to pray on behalf of those who refuse to pray for themselves.  If you do not have a prodigal in your life, then pray–without judging–for someone who does.

Scripture for Reflection

Ephesians 1:18-19

John 16:33

Rushing River

imagePerched atop a weather worn balcony, my gaze sweeps the views afforded by the Arkansas River valley.  Surrounded on every side by mountains, the prairie splays wide between–a broad swath of sun kissed grasses and gray-green sagebrush.  Barbed wire fences zig zag across the landscape and disappear somewhere in the distance where plains and mountains merge.  And the rush of the river below creates a duet with the black capped chickadees darting from one pine branch to another.

I pause…inhaling the calm of this place–a welcome respite from the clamoring sounds of suburbia.

 

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I’m struck by the river as it hurries by–always moving toward something unknown…the promise of what lies around the next bend luring it away from the beauty of its here and now.  And in its incessant winding and wending, I wonder if the river ever pauses long enough just to notice.

But maybe it’s my life I’m really considering–how quickly time moves and twenty years young suddenly becomes forty and now I am my parents while my children have become me.  And like ripples across the river’s surface, my face has begun to wear life’s lines and the days rush by.

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I wonder… In all of the busyness–does my life make a difference?  I pray that even in my smallness God will show Himself large…that these worn mother’s hands will willingly do the work of laundry and dishes and tucking into bed with the tenderness of  the Heavenly Father and that simple words shared on a page will remind you, dear Friend, that the Word is eternal.  He stands strong in the rushing waters–even walks on them–with his hands extended toward you.

No matter how rapid the current and despite the busyness flooding our lives, let’s hold onto the one who leads us beside still waters. (Psalm 23)

 

In the sheltered simplicity of the first days after a
baby is born, one sees again the magical closed circle, the miraculous sense of
two people existing only for each other. 
-Anne Morrow Lindbergh

I thought I understood love–it’s complexity, depth, and vulnerability.  Then I had children and all of my preconceived notions about love were shattered.  Blossoming in their place like a seedling receiving its first drops of water, a pure, true love sprang up.  Tender.  Unselfish.  Sacrificial.

It was a love strong enough to urge a sleep-deprived mother out of bed during the black hours of the night to comfort a colicky infant; a love tender enough to encourage a mother to stay for endless hours in the NICU singing softly to the baby struggling to for every breath; and a love dedicated enough to stretch and exercise her son’s twisted feet despite his cries of pain.

I thought I understood love–then I had a Savior.  Tender.  Unselfish.  Sacrificial.

His was a love merciful enough to offer forgiveness to a lost and lonely child; a love tender enough to be a Father when she was without hers; and a love sacrificial enough to give his life in her stead.

Parenting is the closest I’ve come to experiencing the sort of love He has for us.  Real love.

Live Like You Believe

Each one of these people of faith died not yet having in hand what was promised, but still believing. How did they do it? They saw it way off in the distance, waved their greeting, and accepted the fact that they were transients in this world. People who live this way make it plain that they are looking for their true home. If they were homesick for the old country, they could have gone back any time they wanted. But they were after a far better country than that—heaven country. You can see why God is so proud of them, and has a City waiting for them. (Hebrews 11:13-16)

“Do something radical this week–live like you believe.”  There were some nods, nudges, and Amens  before God’s people bowed their heads for a final prayer.  Help me live like I believe.  

Then I remember yesterday’s stroll in the orange and yellow dappled woods outside of Divide.  The children were on a journey of discovery…Mom, look at this!  But my mind had been captured by the struggles of a dear one and I wondered–even shook my fist– at a world bursting with beauty and struggle, joy and grief, blessing and affliction.

Separating from my family, I lay beneath the aspen trees.  The sounds of father, boy, and girl slowly give way to the rustle of raindrop-shaped leaves. And I grieved over the young man–praying, hoping, wishing for more for him.  More living. More loving. More of the Lord.   But, the prayers have been slow to be answered and I think of the contrast between the two trees I see raising their arms to heaven.

One stands tall–its patterned bark and amber colored leaves offering tribute to the Artist.  An arm width’s distance away, another aspen stands –blackened patches and burn scars testifying to a lightening strike.  There are no leaves.  No signs of vitality.  But its roots dig deep into the   life- giving earth and it awaits the quickening of a new day.  A day of restoration…renewal…redemption.

Just by being, we bear the scars of the world.  But, dear friend, God proves Himself greater…more powerful…and true to His promises. The risen-Christ is living proof.

 Lord,help us live like we believe!

Scripture for Reflection

I heard a voice thunder from the Throne: “Look! Look! God has moved into the neighborhood, making his home with men and women! They’re his people, he’s their God. He’ll wipe every tear from their eyes. Death is gone for good—tears gone, crying gone, pain gone—all the first order of things gone.” The Enthroned continued, “Look! I’m making everything new. Write it all down—each word dependable and accurate.”   (Rev. 21:3-5)

One in Six

He meant well.  They shouldn’t spend much time together.  She has a disorder–bipolar.  I winced when I heard the words because he didn’t know about us.  We understand the stigma…the struggle…the pain swelling on the inside–but still unseen.

Church….Christian…Pastor–there is already shame poured hot like coal on the one who suffers from the burden of festering pain.  And the one in six people in your midst clutches her own secret close to her chest–afraid to let you see her brokenness.  Or, perhaps, she fears revealing the truth about a husband or a child.  If she did would you whisper, “He’s depressed. Maybe your daughter shouldn’t spend time with him.”  Would you judge her?  If she believed more…prayed more…trusted more then God would heal the wound.

So when a friend condemns anti-depressants as a crutch but implores the Hurting to pray for faith, there is a problem in the Body because the Jesus I know came to heal the sick.  The Jesus I know came to remove the burden of a fallen world from the shoulders of those bent beneath its weight.  And the Jesus I know understands that mental illness is like any other–You, dear one, didn’t cause it.

There is no guilt in your struggle, dear one, just as there is no guilt with the one who has cancer.  Church, the one in six ask you to be Jesus today.

Speak truth.  The Church is the place for the suffering.

Love like Christ.  It’s not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 

Give grace.  The nails in the tree set us free from the wounds of this world.  Our Today’s are for His glory.

And it is by grace we are saved!

Standing on the outside, looking in…the screen joins bold color with life as sharp as glass.  I can’t bear the pain in the cries of women mourning over bleeding children as smoke from the rockets spreads across cities.  Still,  the truth of those lives…that reality…that brokenness cannot be hidden in the grey and black of destruction.

And then, I turn the channel.  My stomach recoils at the world’s mess and I wonder when He will make it right.

Standing on the outside, looking in…the familiar sound of her voice travels from one tower to another and I smile at her German practicality.  My dear auntie has cancer–again–and I feel heat and tears mingle as I glance into the corners of her life.  I can see them, though she has quietly swept them into a forgotten corner–fear of the unknown…a sense of aloneness…the looming question of  ‘Why’?

In a moment, there is only the hum of the dial tone and my heart aches for the trial she–and so many others–battle until they fade away.

Standing on the inside, looking out…I begin to feel the hard edges of the day tear at the tender places of hope, joy, and peace.  And  I am reminded that this world, this reality, and these trials are temporary.

Dear one, He is doing more than we can know or even imagine.  One glorious day, Christ will return and this world will know the true Peace Maker.

And even now, when we can no longer rely on our bodies for health or our loved ones for understanding, He is with us.  He never leaves us.  He always understands the ‘Why’.  And His strength remains forever..even as we fade.

If the hidden places in your life and mine are full of grief, emotional or physical pain, or misgivings about the shattered world around us then let them shout for His mercy and restoration in a “thirsty and weary land” that we might see His boundless glory displayed in our small lives.

 

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