Monday, October 2, 2017

The Battle Ground

A few weekends ago Herb and I attended a marriage conference. It was amazing, truly, and sometime perhaps I will write more about it. But specifically I want to talk about the very last morning. The conference leaders asked us to turn to our spouse and answer one question: what battle are you fighting right now? Then they asked us to pray for one another.

This seems like a simple enough question, but it has proven the most powerful question in my life this month. As I sat across from Herb and shared with him my particular battle, I began to cry. I had not named this struggle out loud. I had not identified the war in my soul as of late. And the moment I spoke it aloud, light shone on that dark place in my soul. The battle didn't seem so powerful, the reality of it not quite as real. Now Herb knew my battle, he knew my struggle; He invited Jesus into the battle with us through prayer, and I was able to begin to speak truth to myself in a way hadn't been able to before.

There was a power in acknowledging that we are indeed fighting a battle. It is so easy to forget that this world is against us. For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:12) So often in scripture we are reminded of the battle; there are constant references to the enemy who comes to prowl and steal. I love the passage in 1 Peter that reminds us that the Enemy is prowling lion looking to devour us (1 Peter 5:8). We are called by Paul to put on the armor of God (Ephesians 6). Why would we need armor for everyday life? It seems like overkill to walk about in full suits of uncomfortable metal just to cook and clean and go about our daily lives. But the truth is we are in a war, especially in the everyday. 

In the everyday quiet, we are under attack to hear the truth about who we are and who we belong to. In the everyday relationships, we are fiercely fighting our selfishness in a need to humble ourselves before one another. In the everyday toil, we are fighting the sense of purposelessness, in desperate need of reminding that God has prepared good works for us ahead of time. It is in the everyday that we doubt most the Hope which God has called us to; we feel entrenched in the broken, aching world, and we wonder if there will ever be a reprieve. 

This is why it was so important to name our battles to one another. We need people to remind us to put on our armor. We need others to speak the ever-present truth of scripture over our doubts. We need the encouragement that we do not stand alone in this battle ground. God gave us a community to fight along with us, but how can they fight unless they know?

Therein lies the beauty of the question: What battle are you fighting right now? It was a remarkable moment at our Bible study the week after the conference as we confessed our battles to one another. We found that: one, many of us were fighting such similar battles. What a precious thing to know that our battles weren't unique to us, but instead know we were not alone! And two, in naming our battles we were able to knowingly and intentionally pray for one another and lift one another up. Countless times in the weeks since this meeting, I have had intimate times of prayer for my friends and felt the Lord leading me to send specific passages of scripture to these friends to encourage their hearts. What a gift to know exactly what truth a friend needs to hear! And likewise, what a gift to receive a word of truth from a friend that speaks right into the darkest places of my heart! 

Speaking my battle aloud has been a powerful turning point for me. The speakers at the conference gave us a little army man to place in our home, to remind us that we are fighting these battles, and to remind us to pray for one another in these battles. I've daily been aware that I need to protect my heart, that I need to speak truth to myself when I begin to hear my mind utter things that the Bible declares untrue. It has brought to mind that roaring lion seeking to devour me and made my heart resolute to not allow him to attack. And so the battle ground has been on the forefront of  my mind, and thus my heart was ripe to hear this truth yesterday.

As we stood in church singing, we sang the words "The Lord is fighting our battles," and my heart stopped in its tracks. I've been so keenly aware that I am not fighting these battles alone, that God gave me a spouse and a community to fight alongside of me. But in worship yesterday God gave me an even more resounding truth. GOD is fighting for me! GOD is fighting with me! And the scriptures came flooding back to me:

The LORD himself will fight for you. Just stay calm. Exodus 14:14

You will not leave in a hurry, running for your lives. For the LORD will go ahead of you; yes, the God of Israel will protect you from behind. Isaiah 52:12

Be strong and courageous, do not fear or be dismayed because of the king of Assyria nor because of all the horde that is with him; for the one with us is greater than the one with him. 2 Chronicles 32:7

Once again, how could I forget? How could I forget who ultimately is fighting for me? I had been reminding myself that Jesus has the ultimate victory. I had been reminding myself that God has won the battle. But I had forgotten that He is fighting for me right now! He is standing on the front line. He isn't shying away from the throng. No battle astonishes Him. No attack strategy catches Him off-guard. He has the perfect defenses and is never at a loss for what to do next. This is the captain of my army! He is the one in charge of my infantry! I know no greater comfort than this!

Oh Father, thank you for knowing how much your people need one another and need You! Thank You for never leaving us alone in the fierce battles! Thank You for your armor, Your people, and Your presence in the unceasing attacks. You are such a good God! Amen.


So I ask you, friend, what battle are you fighting right now? Would you please go speak your battle aloud to a friend who will lovingly listen, who will pray for you, who will encourage you, who will fight with you? Shine a light into that dark place in your heart. Do not allow the enemy to prowl there any longer. God has called us into battle together; don't fight alone any longer!



Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The Whosits and Whatsits of My Heart

“'Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.'” Matthew‬ ‭6:19-21‬ ‭NASB‬‬

Honest moment here: I've always been super arrogant when I read these verses. I'm not very materialistic. I don't like things. I don't want stuff cluttering my house. So clearly I've mastered this verse. I obviously store up ALL my treasures in heaven. But as I've been meditating on the verses that lead up to this, God has been showing me that Jesus cares more about what is going on in the secret places, the recesses of my heart that no one sees. I might not externally have a mound of treasures lying around, but what exactly am I treasuring in my heart?

And it is as if God said: I know what your treasure is Katie. The world may not know, but I know. There is was, the object of my collection, the sum total of my whosits and whatsits. I'm quite the hoarder of human adoration. I'm a treasure collector of kind words people say about me. I pile up storehouses like a squirrel fills his hole with nuts. And I munch on them whenever I'm hungry for peace, joy, love.

Now, just like material possessions, the words of adoration are not inherently bad. In fact, God has given them to us to encourage us and lift us up. But if this is where I'm placing my value, if this is how I'm soothing my aches, if this is how I'm finding joy, then I've gone astray. My treasure is not being stored in the right place; these words will fade and tatter. They will die with my body. And as Jesus says just a few verses earlier, if I'm soaking up these words, filling myself with the goodness I feel this world has to offer, I will have my reward in full here on this earth.

There is nothing eternal about my word-hoarding. It is a Snickers bar to an empty stomach. It'll satisfy for a moment, but it certainly will not fill me permanently. The words that will fill me flow from the very mouth of God, quenching a thirsty soul and satisfying each hunger pang.  This is the manna I should be hoarding, for His words are more than enough for me.

I love that the word of God is alive! I love that I've read this passage one hundred times and never had this truth resound within my soul. God is so good to give us what we need when we are ready to hear it. His word refreshes and satisfies the soul, it is sweet to the taste. Oh these words are true!

Monday, February 20, 2017

Lamentations

I feel this heavy weight on my soul every time I log onto social media, or open my phone to a news story that pours out the brokenness of this world. So many people hurting, so many ostracized, so many disenfranchised, so many lost. And I feel overwhelmed. I told a friend last week that I just want to volunteer somewhere new every day of every week and help ALL the people. Anyone else feel this? Anyone else want to single-handedly heal the world? It's daunting. It hangs over my head as the standard I can never reach.

In my class this semester we are taking a long look at God's mission for His people. We are gazing into Scripture to see what God's heart is for this place that is shattered into a million pieces. We are reading about how each and every person is imprinted with the image of God, reminding ourselves that each person has immeasurable value. We are pouring over texts that remind us that we are the broken ones, that Jesus left His comfort to reach into our muck. It is then that we are prompted to leave our own comfort and enter into the muck of others, not as experts who have so much to offer, but as equally fractured people who know what it's like to desperately need a Savior.

Last night I read this beautiful article about the importance of lament as a spiritual discipline ("The Discipline of Lament"). The authors call us to locate ourselves in the middle of the pain, to unlearn our desire for a quick fix, and to truly look at our role in the suffering of others. Will we do it? Will we walk out of our comfort and into the darkest places on earth? Will we leave our homes and safety to open our eyes to where hurting lives? Will we allow our hearts to break without a band-aid big enough to stop the gushing? For if we walk into the darkness where such ache and torture dwells, we will find problems too big for us to solve. We will truly find the end of ourselves:

The first language of the church in a deeply broken world is not strategy, but prayer. The journey of reconciliation is grounded in a call to see and encounter the rupture of this world so truthfully that we are literally slowed down. We are called to a space where any explanation or action is too easy, too fast, too shallow-- a space where the right response can only be a desperate cry directed to God. We are called to learn the anguished cry of lament. (Katongole and Rice)

I can't speak for the rest of the people in this world, but I know my own heart. I know that I don't want to stand face to face with a problem I cannot fix. I do not want to hear the cry of someone whose heart is irreparable. I know the discomfort of the silence of weeping for genuine, real loss that cannot be explained away or quickly healed. It is excruciating. And even when we have the larger Hope of Jesus, the Hope of a healed world to come, we are unable to step away from the uncontrollable sobs of the world languishing under the curse of sin.

But when we step into the darkness, when we choose to open our eyes to the horrors of this world, we are granted the weighty reminder that we cannot fix this. We can't. We just don't have the resources. We don't have the patience. We don't have the long-suffering love necessary to heal the deep despair in this world. It is when we come to this stark reality, when we see our own limits, that we lament.



Lament is not despair. It is not whining. It is not a cry into the void. Lament is a cry directed to God. It is the cry of those who see the truth of the world's deep wounds and the cost of seeking peace. It is the prayer of those who are deeply disturbed by the way things are. We are enjoined to learn to see and feel what the psalmists see and feel and to join our prayers with theirs. The journey of reconciliation is grounded in the practice of lament.
(Katongole and Rice)


I find this so reassuring. I love that God wants us to despair and cry out to Him. He doesn't ask us to suffer in silence. He doesn't want us to turn our eyes away and pretend like the agony is not there. He doesn't require us to bear the burden of brokenness alone. Instead, He says, "Lament. Cry out to me! I see the pain, I see the inequality, I see the anguish. Let me cry with you. Let me hear your heart for these people whom I love so. Thank you for letting your heart break for what breaks My own heart.

"I'm still here. I'm still at work. Join me. But I'm warning you. It won't be easy. You probably won't see the healing in your lifetime. You'll see glimmers, you'll see small steps. But I've been at this healing a long time. The time for complete restoration hasn't come yet."

God is waiting. He is waiting for us to enter into the mangled world. He is waiting for us to locate ourselves in the suffering. Not because He knows we'll have the answers. Not because He wants us to come up with the grand plan to save us all. And not because He wants us to suffer. He wants us to walk into this fractured firmament because He wants us to cry with Him, to love with Him, to serve with Him. He wants us to be reminded of the painful ripples of sin, to see just how desperately we need Him. It is in our desperation that we pray.

I have to admit that I'm not great at prayer. I pray, I talk to God often throughout the day. I pray for people. I pray for healing. I pray for changed circumstances. I pray for God to break strongholds and set people free. But I often just say these things before God, not certain the answer matters. I wonder if my words matter, if prayer changes anything. But so many of the things I pray for can be lived through, can be solved with enough waiting or enough resources from the right people. I am not in a position where I need to ask God to feed my family this day. I am not begging God to free me from addiction. I am not asking God to protect my family from the evil that encompasses my neighborhood. I am not desperate for the Lord's intervention.

It is when we orient ourselves in the really broken places of this world, it's when we listen to the heartache behind the happy facades, it's when we walk into the places where evil has wrecked it's most havoc, that we cry from the depths of our heart for the Lord to move. This is where real faith and real prayer begins.

This is a discipline. It takes practice to press into pain, to step into brokenness with no agenda other than to dwell among it. It takes diligence to not turn around and hightail it out of the darkness into the safe and warm. But until we open our eyes to the fallen world, we cannot cry out to the Lord for His healing to come. Until we see the pain, we cannot know that systems and programs won't bring wholeness, only the love of God will. Until we are reminded of the despair sin brings, we cannot grieve our own sin and rejoice in the goodness of all that Jesus has done.

Finally, then, through lament we come to that hard place of knowing that we cannot "achieve" reconciliation. It is always a gift from God...Lament shapes reconciliation as a long and costly journey that is impossible without receiving the gifts God offers--forgiveness, the promise that our sacrifice is worth it, the patience to stay in an agonizing place and wait for God's reply. (Katongole and Rice)

My prayer for myself: "Lord, let these not merely be words on a page. May lamentation be a rhythm of my life. My I sit with the hurting, hearing their anguish, and cry out to You alongside of them. May I be a woman who seeks reconciliation through the agonizing journey of patient praying, acting and waiting. Amen."

Saturday, December 24, 2016

O Come All Ye Faithful

O Come All Ye Faithful
Joyful and triumphant,
O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem.
Come and behold Him,
Born the King of Angels;
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord.

O Sing, choirs of angels,
Sing in exultation,
Sing all ye citizens in heaven above
Glory to God, glory in the Highest;
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord.

Ye Lord, we greet Thee,
Born this happy morning,
O Jesus! to Thee be all glory given.
Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing;
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord.


It is here. Christmas Eve, the Holy Night, the Silent Night. The shepherds are quaking in the cold, not knowing that in a matter of hours an angel is going to give them the greatest news the world has ever known. The wise men have spotted a star and are making preparations to investigate what this crazy act of nature could be. And in a lowly manger, Mary is laboring away, panting through each contraction, wondering when the pain will end. None of them have to wait a moment longer. The King of Angels is born this night in Bethlehem. It is time for the world to stir, for the people to arise, for the triumphant march to begin. 

The weary world doesn't know much of triumph. The broken shepherd, shunned by society, doesn't revel in any major victories. The exiled slave who pours herself out day after day under a bitter ruler knows nothing of conquest. The grieving man who has lost his brothers in battle feels anything but victorious. The weary world has dropped their swords, fallen to their knees and surrendered.

And yet we are called to a triumphant march, a glorious march of rejoicing and exulting. Joyful and triumphant the faithful come, not because they have any cause to be full of joy, not because they have any victory of their own, but because this Baby has brought with Him the victory. He has taken up the sword; He has marched into battle; it is He who has defeated sin and death. We march with our head high because Jesus has vanquished the enemy. It is not our victory, it is His.

But He gives it to us. When this Child King comes, He gives us triumph, He gifts us with joy. We who are anything but faithful day in and day out, are given His faithfulness. We are faithful, we are rejoicing, we are victorious because He has given those things to us. This tiny Baby, ushered into this tumultuous world, brings with Him intangible gifts that we cannot fathom. 

So we greet Thee born this happy morning. It is a happy morning! It is a morning of great joy, of sighs of relief, of handing over the chains, of raising our swords in victory. God has brought us these gifts, and even more profoundly, He has brought the glory of God to live among us. The Word of the Father appears in flesh; we hear the words of God, we feel the depth of His love, we watch the transformational power of His healing. We glimpse right into the heart of God as He lives and breathes among us. All of this comes to us Christmas Eve in Bethlehem. 

Because God comes to us, because He leaves His throne to enter into our pain, because He moves towards us, we ought to respond in kind. As we see Him, as we hear the good news of His arrival, let us come adore Him. Let us move toward Him, let us gather around the Child King, let us marvel at all He brings. 

O come let us adore Him

Let us bring Him gifts of our time, of our thoughts. Let us lay at His feet our chains that we so strongly hold on to. Let us tell Him of how we fall short. And then let us delight as we tell Him all the ways He is enough. 

Let us adore Him. Worship Him. Honor Him. Glorify Him. Speak of Him. Pursue Him. Love Him. Prefer Him. Choose Him. Come to Him. Give all of us to Him. 

He is here. Christ the Lord, ruler of heaven and earth, creator of the universe and my beating heart. He is here, He is with us, for this day forth and forevermore. His faithfulness to us is infinite, it knows no bounds, it comes at any cost. His faithfulness to His Father is perfect, it knows no bounds, it comes at the cost of His life. His faithfulness, this breath-taking possession, is ours to behold. So let us gather at the manger in the dead of night, let us marvel at what God has done, and let us adore this precious gift of a Child. He is worth all of our adoration.

 


Friday, December 23, 2016

O Come, O Come Emmanuel

O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan's tyranny
From depths of Hell Thy people save
And give them victory o'er the grave
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death's dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, O come, Thou Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes, on Sinai's height,
In ancient times did'st give the Law,
In cloud, and majesty and awe.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Imagine this: a woman bound in chains sitting on the ground in a dark hovel. Or perhaps she is not physically bound, but she is tied through oppression to servitude of a harsh and evil master. While she serves extravagant meals to those who hold her in bondage, she eats the same scraps of slop fed to the pigs. Her people, the ones her mother has whispered to her about in the quiet of night, once were a mighty people; an interwoven community of tradition, celebration and law. They knew the love of a God who freed them time and again. These stories of ransom, these grand stories of Egyptians being swallowed by the seas, these stories of God crumbling a city fortress with the marching of his men and the sound of trumpets, these stories of an army of 300 defeating an army of tens of thousands with a loud yell and the shattering of lamps, these are the stories of her heritage. 

But now she is exiled, separated from the people whom these stories herald. Occasionally she meets eyes with a fellow Israelite slave while she's fetching water at the well, but she is terrified to do more than make eye contact. The masters are fierce and they fear this people whom God has favored so greatly in the past. Yet the slave girl wonders if they really have anything to fear. The God whom her mother spoke of has been silent for so long. Is the long-awaited Messiah really coming? All she knows is chains; all she knows is unyielding orders from an unloving master. Is there such a thing as freedom? Should she dare to hope? Hope seems risky. It could result in devastation. But then she thinks what could be more devastating than this fate? It's hard to imagine what could be worse.

This girl is who Emmanuel comes to on Christmas morn so long ago. God comes, just has He has time and again, to ransom His people, to buy their freedom. He has always moved in spectacular ways, astonishing the world with His might and power. So this might and power is what the Israelites expect. They are in exile, separated from their land, their people, their tradition. They are ready for God to smite their oppressors, just as He did in Egypt many years before. They are ready for God to come in might and act on their behalf. And God comes. He comes in might, He comes to smite their enemies, but He doesn't come the way anyone could expect.


God comes to His people not in a pillar of smoke, not in a roaring sea, not in a mighty earthquake, but in a tender God baby. He has come to them. He has come personally. He has come as Emmanuel, to live among them, to conquer from the inside. It is an inside job, this delivering from Satan's tyranny, this saving from Hell, this conquering o'er the grave. God sees the long term need of His people. He knows that He could easily send 10 plagues to Israel's oppressors and free them once again, but their souls would still be in bondage. Satan has a hold on their hearts, our hearts. The curse instigated so many years ago, penetrates deep within us. We are slaves to trying to be God, to trying to know, and rule, and act in the ways we think are best. And each time He frees us, we walk away praising Him, rejoicing in what He has done, only to moments later forget that it is He who has freed us. We are bound to our selfishness, we are bound to the lies Satan told us in the garden so long ago, we are bound to questioning whether God is really as good as He has shown Himself to be.


So God, in His infinite wisdom, knows we need freedom from more than our circumstances. We need freedom from more than our physical chains. We need freedom from more than the consequences of evil in this world. We need freedom from the chains on our soul. We need freedom from the tyranny of needing to please God, needing to prove ourselves to Him. We need freedom from sin and all of its ripple effects. We need freedom from death.


It is our spirits that God comes and cheers with His advent here. His arrival doesn't always look like deliverance from our physical oppression, although we see He longs for that and does heal many who were physically afflicted in His time here on earth. But more than that He disperses the gloomy clouds of night and death's dark shadows take to flight. It is the clouds of our soul that we are delivered from, it is the anguish of being separated from God. For now, Emmanuel is here. God is with us. Whatever physical affliction we suffer, whatever earthly bondage we face, we do not face it alone. He leads us safely on the path on high and closes the path to misery. It is our souls that Rejoice, Rejoice for we know God is with us. It is our hearts that breath a sigh of relief, that breath in the breathe of freedom as we see death no longer have victory over us. It is our spirits that cry out in thankfulness for the gift of of never walking alone. Emmanuel, God with us, how could we not rejoice?


So now we return to our slave girl, still in bondage, still under the cruelty of a terrible master. But now, O now, she knows a Savior has come. He is hidden amongst the other slaves in the house, He has the means to free them all. He brings hope, He brings certainty that this bondage will not be forever. He will lead every one of us out of this evil place and into a land absent of misery! He speaks of this in passing during the day, whispering His truths over her as she scrubs the walls and cleans the toilets. He sings of the freedom in the long, cold nights when she shivers under the freezing reality of her chains. And her soul is free, for she is certain that this Savior has made a way. She hums while she works, her soul certain of a Savior who loves her. She smiles as she serves her masters, for she knows that it is not truly them who rule over her. Her heart rejoices because Emmanuel has come to her. This captive is free, she has been ransomed indeed. Rejoice, rejoice!

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Love Has Come

Hurry now wake up your eyes
Time for little ones to see
Daddy's got a big surprise
Hiding there beneath the Christmas tree
How they are like the child in me!
See the wonder in their eyes
Like a fairytale come true
One more time I realize
All the love our lives found in you
Love has come
For the world to know
As the wise men knew
Such a long time ago
And I believe that angels sang
That hope had begun
When the god of glory
Who is full of mercy
Sent his son
If I could have a special dream
Coming true on Christmas morn'
I would want the world to see
How his father smiled when Christ was born
The greatest gift the world has known!
So come on kids, look high and low
For all the toys you've dreamed to find
But I believe you'll never know
A greater joy than Jesus' love inside
Love has come
For the world to know
As the wise men knew
Such a long time ago
And I believe that angels sang
That hope had begun
When the god of glory
Who is full of mercy
Yes, the god of glory
Sent his son
(Repeat)

We are drawing near to Christmas day. Drawing near to presents and stockings brimmed to the full. Drawing near to family and food. Drawing near to tradition and music and joy. It is coming; I feel the anticipation in my soul. And that anticipation is so much greater as I watch the sweet children in my life anticipate this day.
They huddle around the Christmas tree looking at the presents, reading tags, wondering what might be placed beneath that tree that is just for them. There is a countdown going on: How many days until Christmas? Izzy asks. Is it time for Santa to come? Josh wonders. There is excitement, there is joy, and there is wonder. 
One of my absolute favorite moments of Christmas comes when Herb has checked to see if Santa visited, and the children bust loose into the living room. The complete awe on their faces as they realize Santa has brought them what they have asked for is so precious; He has managed to fit it into His sleigh, deliver it down the chimney and even assemble it so that it is ready for them to enjoy. How did he do that?!? they wonder. Like a fairytale come true! It is magical to watch them experience perfect gift giving--something chosen just for them, something they desperately wanted, something for their pure enjoyment. This is the gift delivered on Christmas morn.
What a taste that is of the first Christmas day! The anticipation had been building, the longing intense. How many days until we are delivered? the people wondered. How long until the Savior comes? they asked themselves day after day. Does He know what we need? Does He know what I want? Does He understand what will bring me the greatest joy? And oh how He does! 
On that Christmas morn, love had come for the world to know, to know the God of glory who was full of mercy. God had fulfilled their greatest longing to be loved, to be pursued, to be known. He had brought them mercy, where they only knew judgment. He brought them His glory, a glimpse of the God who was theirs to keep for all of eternity. He had delivered Himself.
So often we want the gifts of God, we want Him as a means to an end. We want to come in prayer because we need some thing, we want our circumstances changed, we want joy where there is sorrow. And He is a good gift giver, really quite the best. He gives generously without fail. But more than He wants to give you good gifts, He wants to give you Himself. He longs for you to long for Him. Just like in marriage, we don't want our spouse to want us because of the gifts we give them or the things we bring to them, we want them to want us for who we are. God wants us to love Him, regardless of the gifts He gives, for who He is.
In order to show us that, to show us the real love of wanting us, wanting our presence, He gives us Himself on Christmas morn. The Christ Child is the most thoughtful gift, the one we most need, and the one God hopes we will most want. He longs for us to want Him, to love Him, to delight in Him. God, the perfect Gift giver, is not unlike a parent on Christmas morning; He is watching with anticipation not of the gift He will receive, but in delight of the gift He gave. God the Father watches the faces of His children, smiling as He gives the gift of Jesus, knowing with great certainty that this gift of love will delight them. As the perfect Father, He sees what His children love, what they need, what they have asked for and He knows this gift will fulfill all of those things.
The angels singing that night were a small manifestation of the joy brimming in the Father's heart. He has done it! He has given the greatest gift! He has brought the excitement, the joy, the wonder. And His people did wonder: how did He do it?!? How did He get all of these gifts into one tiny baby? How did He fulfill the cry of the heart so completely? It is once again like a fairytale come true. It is magical to watch His people experience such perfect gift-giving.
So this Christmas morn, as we delight in the gifts beneath the tree, as we revel in the faces of our children as they uncover the gifts they've always wanted, as we delight in the magic of the day, may we let our hearts wander to the perfect gift left beneath a stable roof. May our minds imagine a grinning God as He delights in each heart's unwrapping of the greatest Gift. May we be filled with awe at how He knew exactly what we needed and sent it so perfectly wrapped in flesh to our midst. Let us allow the moments of the season to draw our hearts to worship of the greatest Gift. May we not let the opportunities to join with the angels in praise this Christmas morn. The gifts are good, but the Gift-giver is the best.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Christmas Lullaby

Are you far away from home
This dark and lonely night
Tell me what best would help
To ease your mind
Someone to give
Direction for this unfamiliar road
Or one who says, "Follow me and
I will lead you home"
How beautiful
How precious
The Savior of old
To love so
Completely
The loneliest soul
how gently
how tenderly
He says to one and all,
"Child you can follow Me
And I will lead you home
Trust Me and follow Me
And I will lead you home"
Be near me, Lord Jesus
I ask Thee to stay
Close by me forever
And love me I pray
Bless all the dear children
In Thy tender care
And take us to Heaven
To live with Thee there
Take us to Heaven
To live with Thee there

Today is the longest day of the year, which also means it is the longest night. Around the world tonight churches will hold services for those who are grieving or hurting this Christmas, for those who are feeling eclipsed by the darkness of night. While many revel in this season, so many find themselves in despair. While many sing Joy to the World, there are others who can barely muster a Happy Holidays. These dear friends are in a winter of the soul, bitterly cold and in search of any hope in this long, barren season.
This season can be so lonely, so isolating. In the busyness we hardly connect with one another. In the hustle and bustle we forget to listen and truly hear the hurting people around us. As we are surrounded by family, we often forget that there are many who don't have a soul to share the season with. How precious would it be for us to approach the hurting and listen? How beautiful would it be to ask how we can help those deep in their dark and lonely night? Are they looking for direction for the unfamiliar road? Are they in search of someone to guide them, someone who will say follow me, and I will lead you home?
Perhaps it is at the Christmas season most of all that the lonely and hurting desperately need the tiny baby Jesus. Perhaps it is in dark winter, that the light of the Savior might shine the brightest. Perhaps it is time to take the hand of the lonely and hurting and tell them this comforting truth: the Savior of old loves so completely the loneliest soul. Jesus, in His tender and gentle love, came specifically to the lonely. He didn't come to the popular, to the beloved, to the thriving, He came with the hurting in mind. He came because He wanted to dwell with those who were alone. He wanted to be present with those who were hurting.
Jesus comes and takes the hand of the hurting. He goes out into the snow in search of the child shivering in the cold, hungry and lonely and wounded. He wraps the coat around his shoulders, just as Jesus has wrapped Himself in flesh, and He holds this aching kid. He says, you can follow me. Trust me. Follow me. I will lead you to a place where you will always be accepted. I will lead you to a place where you will always be at home.
Jesus has offered this great gift, this immense love. It is now in the hands of the child to trust, to follow, to move into that forever home. The Savior came that we might never be alone, that we might never feel the pang of rejection and unworthiness again. But we have to choose His friendship; we must trust His goodness. It is in the trusting that we can follow Him to the home of warmth and comfort; a home filled with food that always satisfies and water that permanently quenches. 
It is when we embrace the heart of a child, the tender innocence of the sweet lullaby, that we are able to let go of our freezing, dark hovel and follow the good Savior home. It is our nature to love and trust what we know, to choose the chains because the freedom is terrifying. We don't know what the home will be like; it is unpredictable and uncertain. To accept the freedom is vulnerable; it could end in greater anguish. But if the choice is our hovel or a possible mansion, we must risk the disappointment to gain the greater good. And Jesus is that greater good. 
So lonely and hurting, take my hand, and sing with me this simple child's lullaby. Trust and ask: be near me Lord Jesus, I ask You to stay close by me forever and love me, I pray. Please Jesus, sweet and tender babe, dwell with me always. Never leave my side. Hold my hand, hold me near. Love me forever, even though I'll constantly wander from you. I'm so tempted to go back to the hovel. Please Jesus, draw me back again and again to the mansion. Thank you for loving me, for accepting me, for leading me home. I don't ever want to me alone again; thank you Jesus that I don't have to be. That is the greatest gift. Amen.