The Christmas Tree

The middle of December!  I feel like I blinked, and the sand in the hourglass of 2016 has almost run out.  Before the final grain is gone, I wanted to say “Merry Christmas!” to each of you, and pray that you are able to savor this beautiful season even while juggling the added busyness it brings.  Yesterday I had the rare treat of being able to clear a few hours of schedule and be with my wonderful family – husband and kids, mom, mother-in-law, and both awesome sisters-in-law!   We gathered for our second Poetry Tea, ate lots of scones and tea sandwiches, and shared favorite poems (and lots of laughs!).

Here is the poem I wrote for the tea – my Christmas gift to you.

 

The Christmas Tree

Shimmering light and colorful balls

A star on the top to shine

Piles of gifts placed under it all

Wrapped up and tied up with twine

 

I quietly sit and I gaze at that tree

And ponder the things that it means

As evening descends, the more brightly it shines

And its message takes shape like a dream

 

A manger, a stranger, a star overhead

Magnificent story unfolds

Angels and shepherds, a girl young and scared

Blessed good tidings are toldThe Christmas Tree

 

The wood of that manger, the wood of my tree

The same, but years apart

The joy of the season, the joy of His birth

Reflected inside every heart

 

A wood shop, a carpenter, a young boy is taught

The crafting and carving of things

Useful and beautiful, each one takes shape

As the music of hammering rings

 

The wood in that shop, the wood of my tree

The same, but years apart

The joy of the season, the joy of His work

Reflected inside every heart

 

Darkness descends on the hill of the cross

The Son of God hangs on a tree

Christmas red spilled out for all of mankind

He suffered for you and for me

 

The wood of that cross, the wood of my tree

The same, but years apart

The joy of the season, the pain of the cross

Reflected inside every heart

 

Now the carpenter King is working on us

Conforming us to His Word

Useful and beautiful each one in the hands

Of our glorious, risen Lord

 

The tree tells a tale for the listening ear

The tale of love unconfined

Of death and new birth and life evermore

A wondrous tale divine

 

Merry Christmas with love from my family to yours!

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What to Know When You Need a Miracle

A dear friend of mine recently told our family a story from her childhood as we sat together around our kitchen table, enjoying a variety of desserts, strong coffee, and games.

She shared that when she was 5 years old, her young heart was inspired by the words from the movie Peter Pan that if she would only believe, she could fly.  With fervent chants of “I believe!”, her soaring, faith-filled dive off the nearest high point ended in a broken collarbone.

After the age of 5, we tend to not need so many reminders of our humanity.

We CAN’T fly, and by then, we know it.  We can’t save people, we can’t heal people, we can’t really control anything…including our children!  We are human, and as such, we can only do what humans can do.  We can invent airplanes…and interestingly, my flying friend is now in flight school. 🙂  What a redemptive smile from God!  But humans can only do what their nature allows.  Likewise, birds don’t carry briefcases and work in offices, squirrels don’t go deep sea diving, and cows don’t lay eggs. It’s not their nature.What To Know Before You Pray

So when we need something supernatural, we need to check and see in what our faith lies.  Is it in a person…a person who can’t fly?  Is my faith in my own abilities?  Is my faith in circumstances?  My bank account?  None of those are supernatural sources, are they?

What to Know When You Need  a Miracle

But God…God is supernatural by nature.  He is not like us.  His very being is miraculous.  And because He IS miraculous by nature, everything He does is miraculous – just like everything WE do on our own is human.

 

The currency of a supernatural God IS MIRACLES. Click To Tweet

 

A sunrise?  All creation?  Healing blind eyes, or a cancer-ridden body, or a broken marriage?  Appearing to a seeker in a Muslim country who has never heard of Jesus?  EVERYTHING God does is miraculous.

So when you need a miracle from God, rest assured that your faith is well-placed in the Miracle Maker, and that your miracle is not “A Big One” to God.  And when you ask God for “something small”, His granting of your small request is every bit as miraculous.

That foundation of understanding that our mighty God deals in the miraculous constantly – and is indeed unable to do otherwise  – should give our faith wings to fly.   Oh, that we would believe our Miracle-Working God to invade our realm with His presence and power and destroy the works of the enemy!  Today, in our world, and in your life, may His Kingdom come and His will be done, and may your faith soar to believe for the supernatural!

With faith, hope, and love,

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The Bad News of the Gospel

C.S. Lewis in his renowned book, Mere Christianity, talks about a person’s walk with God beginning with dismay, not comfort.

Not a comforting thought, is it?

We so often want to soft-sell God, to start with the good news of peace and joy, to clean up the messy Old Testament passages, and to overlook the hard sayings of Jesus when we’re just not quite sure what to make of them.  I was reading this morning some Old Testament laws and regulations concerning the sacrifices and cleansing periods required for various maladies…over all of which God is sovereign.  Something in me wanted to say, “But you allowed the (sickness, deformity, whatever) in the first place, and then you require a payment for it?  That doesn’t seem fair…”

Ever had those thoughts?

God made us the way we are, and then we are told the way we are is fundamentally flawed.

The Law shows us that no human can measure up to the standards of perfect holiness…other than One.

That, my friends, is the bad news of the Gospel.

Which is, in essence, calling it “The bad news of the Good News”, since that’s what “Gospel” means.  We must begin, as C.S. Lewis suggests, with dismay – the bad news first.  Otherwise, who needs the good news?  The good news is so very good because we receive it after the shock of the bad news.

The bad news is, YES, we are fundamentally flawed, regardless of anything we have ever done or not done.  We are less than perfect – worse than that, we are “born in sin and steeped in iniquity” (Ps 51:5).  There is nothing we can do to fix ourselves or to be worthy to approach a holy God on our own merit.

When we have looked that square in the face and accepted it, then we are ready to receive the very great Good News: the God who set all this in motion has already provided the only and final Sacrifice we will ever need.

Why?

Because of love.  The pure,  all-consuming love of God that makes our very best, shining efforts at love seem dingy, tarnished, and broken in comparison.  The love that was willing to die to reconcile us to God.  The love that pays at great cost for us to have free will to love in return.

The problem for some is, we too must pay a price to receive the free gift of God.

No more than we can afford; only our pride.

We must first swallow the bitter pill of the bad news and let it work its way into our innards.  We must truly understand the truth that we are NOT good enough, and NOT deserving, and that God is God totally separate from us and does not owe us an explanation (or anything else).  He doesn’t have to make sense to us, He doesn’t have to do what we feel He ought to do.  He is God – there is no other.

In that place of humility and dependence, our greatest, most desperate need is met in a rushing flood of overflowing abundance, beyond anything we could ever hope for.  We are The Boy Who Held Back the Sea, but in this story, we allow the hole in the dike to come unplugged by letting go of our stubborn pride, and we stand basking in the refreshing, life-giving free flow of forgiveness, of acceptance, of joy.  Oh, the Good News more than makes up for the bad news. What a wonderful Savior!

Maybe this week you can greet someone with a smile and  “So, have you gotten any bad news lately?”…just don’t forget to follow up the bad with the good.  🙂

With love,

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The Best Christmas Gift Ever – Emmanuel, God With Us

During this advent season, the kids and I have been reading the Christmas story in Luke and Matthew over and over again at bedtime.  Shepherds and angels are starting to appear in my dreams – which is exactly what I wanted.  My hope was that we would so immerse ourselves in the wonder of the narrative that we would be transported beyond the familiar words that we can recite almost unthinkingly and be completely caught up in the story.  The hundreds of silent years that had passed since the last echoes of the final Old Testament prophet had finally died away.  The wondering – where is God?  Has He forgotten His people?  The Roman occupation of Israel, the oppression, the misery.  Soldiers where they weren’t wanted.  Taxes that were too heavy and wages that were too light. And too, the deep spiritual hunger that no amount of years of silence could quench – the hunger and longing of the hearts of God’s people for their God.  A Savior had been promised, but He was very long in coming.  The prophecies…were they really true?  Or would it always be like this, and there really was no hope at all?

The hundreds of silent years that had passed since the last echoes of the final Old Testament prophet had finally died away.  The wondering – where is God?  Has He forgotten His people?  The Roman occupation of Israel, the oppression, the misery.  Soldiers where they weren’t wanted.  Taxes that were too heavy and wages that were too light. And too, the deep spiritual hunger that no amount of years of silence could quench – the hunger and longing of the hearts of God’s people for their God.  A Savior had been promised, but He was very long in coming.  The prophecies…were they really true?  Or would it always be like this, and there really was no hope at all?

The Roman occupation of Israel, the oppression, the misery.  Soldiers where they weren’t wanted.  Taxes that were too heavy and wages that were too light. And too, the deep spiritual hunger that no amount of years of silence could quench – the hunger and longing of the hearts of God’s people for their God.  A Savior had been promised, but He was very long in coming.  The prophecies…were they really true?  Or would it always be like this, and there really was no hope at all?

And too, the deep spiritual hunger that no amount of years of silence could quench – the hunger and longing of the hearts of God’s people for their God.  A Savior had been promised, but He was very long in coming.  The prophecies…were they really true?  Or would it always be like this, and there really was no hope at all?

A Savior had been promised, but He was very long in coming.  The prophecies…were they really true?  Or would it always be like this, and there really was no hope at all?

The Best Christmas Gift EverThe long, slow ripening of times, events, governments and ages had finally come to pass, and at a word from God for the long-awaited and masterfully planned series of events was begun.

An aged priest with trembling hands slowly and methodically went about his duties, offering incense behind the veil – his once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to perform this sacred function.  He hardly dared to breathe there in the Most Holy Place.  Then suddenly and heart-stoppingly, Zechariah was not alone – who was this terrifying, brilliant being?  “Your prayer has been heard.  Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son…”

“Your prayer has been heard.  Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son…”

My prayer?  Isn’t it a little late for that, Gabriel?  Did you get caught in an angelic traffic jam that lasted – oh – about three decades??  Do you realize how old we are?  That prayer hasn’t been prayed in a long, long time.

But this son – it wasn’t time for him three decades ago.  This son was to be a very special son indeed, and the time for him to make his appearance is now.  Zechariah and Elizabeth had been chosen – they were both upright and obedient in God’s sight – to bring a key player into the world who would prepare the way for the Messiah.  The long delay only made the joy that much greater.

About 6 months later, a young, poor girl from a neighborhood that was never featured on HGTV, was quietly going about her household tasks with a smile on her face – engaged!  Joseph was a fine man, everyone said, and she would do her very best to make a good home for him.  They didn’t have much between them – no one here did – but God would provide..and the hope of the coming Messiah was always with them.  Kneeling and folding laundry and dreaming of the future, her reverie was abruptly ended by the appearance of a large, alarming stranger who spoke troubling words to her.  How could Mary begin to comprehend all that Gabriel’s message contained?  It meant that she alone was chosen out of all humanity – past, present, and future – to bear the Christ Child.  Suddenly her simple dreams of a quiet domestic life with Joseph vanished as she responded in trust, “I am the Lord’s servant.  May it

The Best Christmas Gift EverKneeling and folding laundry and dreaming of the future, her reverie was abruptly ended by the appearance of a large, alarming stranger who spoke troubling words to her.  How could Mary begin to comprehend all that Gabriel’s message contained?  It meant that she alone was chosen out of all humanity – past, present, and future – to bear the Christ Child.  Suddenly her simple dreams of a quiet domestic life with Joseph vanished as she responded in trust, “I am the Lord’s servant.  May it be to me as you have said.”

Wait…Gabriel…come back!  I forgot to ask you some things!  Will Joseph believe me??  What will my parents say?

Can you imagine the thoughts, like leaves in a hurricane, that must have wildly whirled through her mind?  Then telling Joseph – and the look of disappointment on his face as he turned and walked away.  His mostly sleepless night, tossing and turning, and trying to sort through his anger and disappointment and try to find a way out of this mess that wouldn’t completely ruin poor Mary.  After several hours, he could finally say “poor Mary”, for her choice had indeed sealed her fate and now she was to be pitied.  Finally, exhausted, he drifted off to sleep.  When he woke, the impression of his angelic dream was so strongly upon him – could it actually be true?? – that his course of action was totally changed.  He began to hear wedding bells.

Finally, exhausted, he drifted off to sleep.  When he woke, the impression of his angelic dream was so strongly upon him – could it actually be true?? – that his course of action was totally changed.  He began to hear wedding bells.

Finally, after many months that contained more highs (the visit to Cousin Elizabeth) and lows (the disbelief of those who though she was just plain crazy) than a Ferris wheel, she felt her time had arrived.  Only WHY HERE?  So far from home – this is not how she planned it!  The midwife isn’t here, her mother isn’t here – only kind Joseph trying desperately to do the impossible – to make a woman in labor comfortable on a pile of straw.  Dear God, is this how it was supposed to be??

The Best Christmas Gift EverOutside Bethlehem, in the cold and dark of the starry night, simple shepherds sat together on the grass, scanning the horizon for predators as their sheep rested.  Clueless to the timeless drama being enacted so near their quiet hillside, they ate their bread and cheese and talked – perhaps of the coming Messiah – through the long hours while young, scared Mary labored through the night.  A final scream and

A final scream and push and the sky is ripped open by a choir of angels blazing a path of glory from Heaven to that hillside – God’s royal baby announcement.  HE IS HERE!!  Dropping their hunks of bread and cringing on the grass before such stunning awesomeness, the shepherds, who had been watching, saw more than they were ever expecting to see.

HE IS HERE!!  Dropping their hunks of bread and cringing on the grass before such stunning awesomeness, the shepherds, who had been watching, saw more than they were ever expecting to see.

Dropping their hunks of bread and cringing on the grass before such stunning awesomeness, the shepherds, who had been watching, saw more than they were ever expecting to see.

Back to the now quiet stable, and Joseph again tries to make Mary comfortable.  The alarmed donkeys and cow go back to their peaceful munching, now that things have calmed down again.  Baby Jesus, tenderly wrapped against the cold, nurses, and Mary is content. Oh, the wonder of newborn life – but THIS life – it can only be summed up in one beautiful word: Emmanuel.  God with us. He is here.

Please don’t let this season rush past without drinking in the beauty of this story.  It is for you that He came.

A blessed and Merry Christmas to you with love!

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How to Cultivate a Heart of Thanksgiving Every Day

Isn’t it refreshing to be in the midst of a season that encourages us to stop and count our blessings?  I’m so thankful that Thanksgiving is not a gift-giving holiday in the traditional sense.  That will be upon us soon enough!  But before another turn of the calendar pages, our thoughts can linger like a glorious sunset over the blessings that, lovingly woven together by the Master Craftsman, create the multicolored fabric of our lives.

There is something inherently wonderful in saying “thank you”.  It lifts both giver and receiver a little Heaven-ward.  And who couldn’t use a few (or many) such lifts throughout the day?  Some days, however, we mere humans are hard-pressed to find anything at all for which to be thankful.  We may feel irritable, depressed, anxious, disappointed, angry…anything but the gratitude that would be a healing balm for our sore hearts.

Last weekend, while staying at a cabin with some wonderful friends, I watched my children building a fire.  They have learned a few things in that department and have surpassed my wealth of knowledge on the subject, which could be summed up: 1. Stick a Firestarter log in the fireplace, and 2. Turn on the gas.  But that was BEFORE last week – I know MUCH more now.  🙂  Mainly, that you have to start with little stuff, and you have to feed what you want to grow.

Somehow, that applies to cultivating a “Thanksgiving Every Day” mentality as well.

Start small.  

Thank you, Lord, that I have eyes to watch my children play, to see the sun shining on red hair, to watch when they think no one is looking and catch them giggling together.

Thank you, Lord, that I have ears to hear the birds in the trees, the laughter of friends, the kind voice of a loving husband.

See the smoke curling up out of the fire ring?  We must carefully blow on the glowing sparks…

Thank you, Lord, for a weekend carved out of the busyness of life and a chance to reconnect with nature and people I love.

A tiny flame!  Time to feed the baby fire…

Thank you, Lord, that I was able to get myself out of bed today, to dress, and to walk everywhere I wanted to go.  

Now the small sticks have caught!

Thank you, Lord, for the incredible patience you show me on a daily basis, for the kindness you shower on me, and for the evidence of your hand in my life.

The merry crackling cheers the night air around us, and we are warmed by the glow.  So it is with gratitude…it warms, it cheers, it is contagious.

How can we feed the spirit of thanksgiving in our hearts?  Paul said in 1 Thessalonians 5:18 to “give thanks in all circumstances…”

We feed the fire, and then it grows.  We give thanks, and the spirit of thankfulness grows.  It might take a little practice, but it comes with a money-back guarantee!  The end of the verse reads “…for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”  He wants us to have the ability to give thanks in every circumstance – yes, even that one. So He will be delighted to help us get there!  Why does He want us to be thankful in every crummy circumstance?  Because He wants to hear people saying “Thank you” to Him 8 billion times per day?  I think not.  As a Father, He knows we are the happiest when we are grateful.  He also knows we are going to encounter a lot of unpleasantness down here.  Thanksgiving (not the turkey and dressing kind) can shield our hearts from the corrosion of the world.

There’s a three-part harmony going on in that verse.  The entire verse reads:

“Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

The pieces fall into place when we link being joyful, remaining in constant communication with the Father, and perpetual thanksgiving.  Remove one from the equation, and it no longer works.  But all together, it’s a circle that keeps going.  We are joyful when we are thankful and are in communion with Him, and on and on and on.  It’s His heart for you and me – thanksgiving every day.  It can transform “one of THOSE days” into a victory.

So when the last of the leftover turkey is gone, the fall decor is being put away and the Christmas boxes are coming down from the attic, let’s remember to feed our fires and keep them going.

If we do, we can have Thanksgiving every day, all year long.

With a thankful heart,

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