Sunday, December 30, 2012

Worship Song Sunday -- Savior To Me, by Kerrie Roberts

Although he was in the form of God and equal with God, he did not take advantage of this equality. Instead, he emptied himself by taking on the form of a servant, by becoming like other humans, by having a human appearance. He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, death on a cross. ~ Philippians 2:6-8, God's Word Translation

What words could tell

What song could sing?

And bring
Glory to God above,
Full of truth and endless love;

Portrait of The Savior, by Maria Spencer
He Who is and was and always will be,
I surrender to the One
Gentle and most powerful;

photo provided by First Presbyterian Church of Baton Rouge

May this song be a blessing, a strengthening and a comfort to you!

Of all the things You are,
You've chosen to be
A savior to me.

Monday, December 24, 2012

A Very Merry and Blessed Christmas!

"For unto you is born this day, in the City of David, a Savior who is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you: Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger." ~ Luke 2:11-12

In The Hands of the Father, by Roger Loveless 
In the coming days, I will be spending time with my family, as well as much needed time with the Lord for contemplation and prayer about some deeply personal matters.  So I want to take this time to wish everyone here a joyous and blessed Christmas, and a very happy and healthy New Year! Thank you all, dear faithful readers, for your treasured support, encouragement and prayers this past year. I will covet them all the more in the coming year!  

Grace and peace to you, my brothers and sisters.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Worship Song Sunday -- Emmanuel, by Michael W Smith & Amy Grant-

"For a child will be born for us, a son will be given to us, and the government will be on His shoulders.

He will be named

Wonderful Counselor
Mighty God
Eternal Father
Prince of Peace

The dominion will be vast and its prosperity will never end. He will reign on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish and sustain it with justice and righteousness from now on and forever. " ~ Isaiah 9:6-7, HCSB

For Unto Us A Child Is Born, by Simon Dewey
May this song be a blessing to you and bring you joy!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Unwrapping Some More

"...I will transform the Valley of Trouble into a Gateway of Hope. She will give herself to me there, as she did when I freed her from her captivity...." ~ Hosea 2:15, NLT

Today, I am both excited AND delighted to showcase and introduce you all to my sweet friend-- and now, fellow blogger over at Journeying On.... -- Jessica!  I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Jessica since she was about 8 or 9 years old, when her mom and I first met at church and became friends. I've watched her grow from childhood into young womanhood. She is a person who fiercely and sincerely loves and lives for Jesus.

I’ve read many of Jessica's writings on the Notes section of her Facebook page; writings she's transferred over to and which make up her Wordpress blog.  I've been encouraged, inspired, touched and convicted by her words, her thoughtful insights and the hard lessons learned. Her words have often made me laugh out loud, or caused me to sit at my computer with tears streaming down my face. While she is young enough to be my daughter, Jess has the wisdom of someone much older, which I believe is due in part to her particular life journey, a passage which was not without its difficulties and dark times. 

But, thanks be to God, through the intervention of her devoted and loving family, the compassion and care from some amazing and dedicated folks at Mercy Ministries, and the powerful prayers of the faithful in Christ, Jessica has experienced restoration and strengthening in her relationship with Jesus, finding freedom from that which kept her in bondage for so long. At the top of her Journeying On blog, she very appropriately references the verse of Scripture from Hosea 2:15.
Hosea 2, by Rebecca Brognan (from John The Baptist Artwork series)
While the specifics of her experiences and trials may not be the same as yours, it is my wish, (and I'm sure it's Jessica's as well), that as you read this and other posts on her blog, you will be able to identify with her struggles, her feelings of unworthiness, helplessness and hopelessness, YET ALL THE WHILE coming to see and know the transforming power of the love, grace and mercy of Jesus Christ, His continual pursuit of you and His constant presence in your life.

So now, without any further ramblings from me, I invite you to come along with Jessica on her journey, with the following blog post I’m so privileged to share – 'Unwrapping Some More'

As it gets closer to Christmas, I am reminded of my favorite Christmas ever; Christmas at Mercy Ministries, where I was loved in a way like never before and blessed with gifts beyond what I could really comprehend. I remember the few days I had visiting my home, where I could really think about all those gifts I received. I couldn't believe it. I'm so unworthy, I thought to myself, I don't deserve this. Any of this. I don't really 'need' any of that stuff. They shouldn't waste their time and money on me. I don't deserve nice things, I'm not worth it.

But that was the point. They were showing us (the residents; 'Mercy girls') how Christ loved us.....continue reading here

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Worship Song Sunday -- Come Thou Long Expected Jesus by Journey Worship

The LORD is my Shepherd [to feed, guide, and shield me], I shall not lack.  He makes me lie down in [fresh, tender] green pastures. He leads me beside the still and restful waters. He refreshes and restores my life (my self); He leads me in the paths of righteousness [uprightness and right standing with Him -- not for my earning it, but] for His Name's sake.  Yes, though I walk through the [deep, sunless] valley of the shadow of death, I will fear or dread no evil, for You are with me; Your rod [to protect] and Your staff [to guide], they comfort me. ~ Psalm 23:1-4, AMP

Today is the Third Sunday of the Advent season.  On the Advent wreath, the rose colored candle is lit, which represents Joy. It's also called The Shepherd's Candle.

In light of the tragic elementary school shooting that took place this past Friday in Newtown, Connecticut, I'd have to say there is not much joy in the lives of many today. Survivors, and those who don't even know them are grieving. 

And goes on, doesn't it? It's hard to even fathom this, and perhaps, sounds a bit harsh to point out, but it does.

Today, please remember to keep those who are grieving and hurting in your prayers -- those whose lives were touched by this tragedy, and those whose sufferings will never make world or local news headlines -- and ask our dear Shepherd, Jesus Christ, to lead them -- and us -- through the dark valleys and into a broad place of joy. 

Come, Lord Jesus!

The Good Shepherd, by Christopher Santer

Oh, He IS coming. Hold on!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Great Christmas War

As usual, I'm the gal with more questions than answers. So here I am with some questions. Questions some may not care for. If you believe you fall into that category, feel free to stop reading here.

Questions like: Why are we, as Christians, so angry and mean when people wish us Happy Holidays? Why are we so over-the-top insistent that others MUST respond in kind to our well wishes of "Merry Christmas!?" All this War on Christmas stuff has seriously begun to just drive me bonkers. 

Why do we expect people who don't know, don't love, don't care about and aren't interested in living their lives for Jesus the rest of the year, to suddenly ACT like they do during this time of year?  Let's be honest: When we ourselves wish people at stores, in restaurants, at the bank, at our workplace or schools, in our neighborhoods a "Merry Christmas"....are we really talking about Christ's birthday (incidentally, the exact, honest-to-goodness date NO ONE really knows), are we really wishing them a truly joy-filled celebration of this special, holy day, or are we merely referring to the commercialized, Santa-driven, Ho-Ho-Ho-holiday? 

C'mon now -- is THIS what Jesus meant by commanding us to share the 'Good News' with everyone? I doubt it.

We boycott stores who make their employees use the generic 'Happy Holidays' greeting, or who use it in their advertising, and encourage everyone in our like-minded little circle to do the same (ahhh, now THERE'S a loving, Christ-like thing to do). We slap those not quite so subtle, self-righteous bumper stickers onto the backs of our vehicles, letting every traveler behind us know that WE say 'Merry Christmas,' and if we offend you, well....too bad. 

We sing songs with titles like 'Love Came Down At Christmas,' yet we're showing anything BUT love to those who do not, and, in the case of those whose jobs policy clearly states so, CANNOT wish us, the curmudgeonly consumer, a MERRY CHRISTMAS!!! Where's the love of Christ here, folks? 

Growing up in the '60s, I remember going Christmas shopping with my mom and dad (because, yes, we celebrated Christmas), and having the salesclerks and cashiers wish them either a 'Merry Christmas' or 'Seasons Greetings.'  I never recalled my mother getting offended and leaving the store in a huff, or dashing off angry letters to the editor or to local congressmen.

And while I'm on the subject -- I'm just wondering here....why am I not reading anything from the Jewish community about how they are up in arms because people are wishing them 'Happy Holidays?' Where are the 'WE say Happy Channukah!' bumper stickers and buttons? 

Again -- these are merely the somewhat crazy musings that go through my oft overcrowded head on any given day. I'm, as they say, 'just sayin.'  

Perhaps -- and this is just a humble suggestion -- the better thing for us to do during this most wonderful time of the year, as people who want the world to know that we live for and love Jesus Christ, is to stop worrying about people's choice of wording and just treat others with the love of Jesus:
  • Smile and strike up a conversation with the bored-looking teen with multiple tattoos and body piercings and tri-colored hair, standing behind the register. It won't cost you a thing and you might be pleasantly surprised 
  • Offer to bring a hot cup of coffee or tea to the frozen looking Salvation Army volunteer who has been standing outside, ringing their bell in the cold for hours
  • Look the tired and overwhelmed salesclerk in the eyes and ask them how they're doing -- and then really wait around for them to answer
  • Let someone go ahead of you in line, especially if they have more items than they have hands
  • When eating out, be sure to ask your waiter or waitress their name, if they don't tell you at the get-go; engage in actual conversation with them, not just the usual, "more coffee, please," and "you can bring the check now." And DO leave a generous tip, whether or not you believe they're in line for a 'Server of the Year' award. A bit of grace goes a long way. Make them look forward to having you come back, especially if you're a regular
  • If you're the shy and silent type, anonymously pay for that fellow diner patron who sits at the counter, alone
  • Smile and offer sincere thanks those who serve you and your family: from gas station attendants to Fed Ex delivery people; from your children's teachers to the guy down the street who shovels the snow off your sidewalk, free of charge and without your ever having to ask
I'm convinced if we slowed down, took the time and gave it some thought, we could come up with many more simple, yet sweet ideas for gift giving -- the gift of Christ's love to someone who we aren't sure has ever experienced it, through the Christmas season and beyond.

And for heaven's sake -- if you feel THAT irritated when someone wishes you 'Happy Holidays,' ask them what holiday they celebrate. If they say Christmas, say, "Hey, me, too!" If they say something else, wish them a Happy Whateveritis.  It takes less than ten seconds (believe me, I know -- I've tried it and timed it). And don't take it personally if their response is less than merry or jolly. Once, I asked my doctor's receptionist what she celebrated. She glared at me and responded, "I don't celebrate ANYTHING." So I told her, "Well, Faith -- then have a wonderful day!"  Faith's face softened a bit as she replied, "Thanks," and turned away.  

In the Great Christmas War, love, mercy, grace and humility can be our strongest 'weapons.' 

'Every Knee Shall Bow,' by Gaye Frances Willard

How do you feel about this and where do you stand on this topic? I'd love to hear from you.

Christmas Eve, 2AM/Heavy snow is falling down/And the streets clothed in white/Echo songs that were sung by candlelight/We're alive/we can breathe/But do we really care for this world in need?/There's a choice we must make each and every day.....~ When Love Came Down, by Point of Grace

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Worship Song Sunday --O Come O Come Emmanuel, by Aaron Shust

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed and qualified me to preach the Gospel of good tidings to the meek, the poor, and afflicted; He has sent me to bind up and heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the [physical and spiritual] captives and the opening of the prison and of the eyes to those who are bound ~ Isaiah 61:1, AMP

Shade and Darkness, by William Turner
A hauntingly beautiful song of a captive people, crying out from the darkness, crying out in their pain and suffering, for Messiah's deliverance -- then and now. 

Emmanuel.  In Hebrew, it is Imanu'el, meaning 'God is with us.'  And for those of us who believe that this child - born to ordinary parents and into humble circumstances over two-thousand years ago - was and is God's very own Son, 'God is with us' should indeed be the summation of what Christmas is REALLY all about. 

The birth of hope. 

Friday, December 7, 2012

Shine, Part One

"You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again?  It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.  You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead, they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 

In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven." ~ Matthew 5:13-16

If someone were to offer make my day-to-day life into a reality TV show, what would that look like? What would they – the folks behind the cameras and the viewing audience – see in following me around in my daily activities?  I started thinking about this recently after watching a few episodes of two particular reality shows over the past few days.

I’m not much of a TV watcher anymore. Frankly, for as many channels as there are on cable and satellite TV, there really isn’t a whole heck of a lot out there that I consider worth spending my time watching.  My family, however, loves them some reality TV (and that really drives me crazy).  From American Pickers to Ice Road Truckers; Ink Master to What Not To Wear – a crazy cast of characters always seems to parade across our TV screen nightly and out into our living room.

I’ve caught snippets of some shows; other times, I’ve actually been able to sit down and watch an episode or two with my family. I’ve had a myriad of reactions to what I’ve seen on the screen: laughter, tears, shock, compassion, disgust, appreciation, sorrow, horror, sympathy. 

For the life of me, I cannot comprehend why some people are so willing and eager for total strangers to invade their lives, allowing themselves to be followed around and filmed as they attend to their daily activities; or what possesses them to air their ‘dirty laundry’ for all the world to see. I’m sure we could all come up with plenty of ideas, but that’s not where I’m going with this post.

The other night, I sat down on the couch with my 16 year old daughter to watch a show which centers on a family’s struggle to move forward after the death of a beloved family member. After watching 3 episodes of it (darling daughter had LONG gone to bed while Moi remained), it was clear the show was an obvious, blatant exploitation of this still grieving family. I was really shocked that the family’s matriarch, a God-loving, God-fearing woman, would have sincerely given it her ‘blessing’ and allowed her name to even be associated with it, especially after the disgust and disappointment  she’s expressed over the media’s circus-like coverage of her daughter’s death.  

But even more so, I was saddened by the things I saw played out by a family who says they love the Lord. Besides the many necessary ‘bleeping’ out of certain language, questionable clothing choices and living arrangements, one scene in particular stood out to me that was both pitiful and ironic: a husband and wife engaged in a nasty argument with each other underneath a wall plaque prominently displaying these words:

The next night, I caught some episodes of another show that follows the lives of two gospel singing sisters. I LOVE these gals. Their music has inspired and encouraged me over the years.  But again, the things I saw and heard really gave me pause. I turned off the show, disappointed. Because these women are Christians.  Christ followers. God lovers. Committed to serving the Lord with their gifts, those beautiful singing voices.

But had I not known this, I probably wouldn't have been able to tell they were by what I saw and heard. I would have perceived them as just another couple of celebrity divas with a crazy entourage and a foul-mouthed, greedy manager. 

Please understand and believe me: I am NOT here to criticize, judge or point fingers at the families on these shows. After watching each of these episodes, a great sadness came over me that lasted for several days as I continued to ponder what I had seen. And as I sat in quiet reflection earlier this morning, God’s sweet whisper came to me, as it usually does, to make these musings very personal:

“And what does YOUR life look like, dear one, to those who don’t know Me? If camera crews were to shadow YOU each day, what would they see? Would they see only you, or would they see a reflection of Me? Would they be able to tell that you were Mine?”

Questions that caused me to cringe. I already knew the answers.  

And then more questions – from my heart – like flood waters, came pouring out:
  • Do my words -- verbal and written -- honor and glorify the Lord God?
  • Do my actions and attitudes befit a daughter of the King?
  • Do my eyes reflect Christ’s love?
  • Do my facial expressions and body language give off the impression of a kind, gentle, caring and approachable godly woman?
At the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told the crowd that they were to be salt and light. This command remains the same today. And that knowledge brings more pondering. 

Salt and Light, by Bernie Rosage, Jr.
What does it really mean to be salt and light? What will it look like for me and how do I do this?After all, I’m only human. A flawed, imperfect soul. And yet – called to be different.

Not of this world
Set apart

A journey for another day. I hope you'll join me. 

Make 'em wonder what you've got,
Make 'em wish that they were not
on the outside looking bored;

Let it shine before all men
Let 'em see good works and then,
Let 'em glorify the Lord ~ Shine, by the newsboys

Monday, December 3, 2012

And Now For Something Completely Different!

Hello, dear ones! I'm just SO EXCITED!! Why, you may ask?  

Well, today, you can find me over at Beneath The Surface:Breath of Faith. My Bloggy BFF, the enthusiastic and always creative, Dawn Paoletta, asked me to kick off her Inspiring Women Series (how to give birth to a dream), with a guest post of my own, and I'm quite honored to do so.  This is my first time doing something like this and I'd love for you to join me!

See you there!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Worship Song Sunday -- Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing, by Chris Rice

O Root of Jesse, You stand as a signal for the people; before You, Kings shall fall silent and to You, the nations shall make their prayer: Come to deliver us, and do not delay! ~ from the Antiphons of Advent

Today is the first Sunday in the Advent season.  

Advent photo, Cheryle Kupsch Photography
Advent is derived from the Latin word, adventus, which means ‘coming.’  It’s a time of eager anticipation as we not only prepare for the celebration of Christ’s birth, but as we prepare for His Second coming as well.

Right now, preparation of any kind seems like a daunting task for me, as lately I have felt like one huge walking, talking, cluttered mess.  So many needless, foolish, dark and broken things are piled high and packed full into the storage rooms of my heart, mind and spirit. Wretched and useless things I'd much rather keep hidden away and avoid, but nonetheless, things that need to be purged and cleansed.  I NEED to make room for Jesus.

I so want these next several weeks before Christmas -- which are often extremely hectic weeks -- to be a time of sweet, holy joy and peaceful, purposeful contemplation on the things in this life that matter: of God-with-us, of family near and far, of friends and strangers in need, of making the fruits of the Spirit available to whomever I meet. 

As a people-pleasing, ‘everything-has-to-be-perfect’ kind of gal, I feel somewhat overwhelmed by this. Like some lone, inexperienced maid, asked to clean a castle from top to bottom in a mere few days to prepare for the coming of a very special, extraordinary King.

And yet -- I must remember that, although Jesus is a King, He humbled Himself and came to this earth in human form, a small, helpless Infant born into the lowliest of circumstances: in an ordinary stable among cows, sheep, goats and donkeys; drawn out of the birth canal and held first in the rough-hewn hands of His earthly father, an ordinary carpenter; wrapped in rags by His young, exhausted, not-yet-wed mother, an ordinary village girl; placed reverently and lovingly onto the smelly, and no doubt dirty, straw in an ordinary feeding trough for the barn animals.

Our Hope -- surrounded by and swaddled in humility.

The condition of my heart, spirit and mind….no, they’re certainly not perfect. But this Christ, this King – He is not looking for House Beautiful here, ready to perform the white glove test on me. And thankfully not, for I would surely fail!! No, I believe He is seeking only to be able to daily enter into my welcoming, humble heart; longing to heal my continually broken and contrite spirit, desiring to consistently guard my mind, always in need of renewal, with God’s peace.  

This year, in my search for a song to use that would not only suffice as a song of worship, but a song that would well represent the beginning of the Advent season, as well as my own, personal Advent journey, I came across a site that listed this song, 'Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing,' as one which was used in someone's church during the Advent season.  I thought to myself, 'Really? THIS song?' It didn't really strike me as 'adventy' or even 'Christmasy' (and are these even real words I'm using here?).  

And yet, upon listening to it after being given a holy 'nudge' to write this post, I think it's a 'perfect fit.'  

May this song inspire, comfort and encourage you, dear one, as you perhaps begin your own Advent journey today......

And then Isaiah says: 'There shall be a root of Jesse; and He Who shall rise to reign over the Gentiles, in Him the Gentiles shall hope.'  May the God of hope fill you with joy and peace in your faith, that by the power of the Holy Spirit, your whole life and outlook may be radiant with hope.' ~ Romans 15:12-13, (J.B. Phillips New Testament)

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Worship Song Sunday - Carry Me To The Cross, by Kutless

Even to your old age and grey hairs, I am He, I am He Who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you. I will sustain you and I will rescue you. ~ Isaiah 46:4, NIV

Rescued By Love, by Darren Tan
When the path is daunting,
And every step exhausting,
I'm not alone, I'm not alone,

I feel You draw me closer
All these burdens on my shoulder,
I'm not alone, I'm not alone,
You pull me from this place

You carry me every day,
You carry me all the way;
You carry me to the,
You carry me to the cross. ~ Carry Me To The Cross, written by Jason Walker, Nick DePartee, Mark Stuart

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Giving Thanks

Give thanks for what you have today, large and small, plenty and little.  God is our Loving Provider and Gracious Supplier. Take some time today -- whether in peaceful silence or amid the rattling of the pots and pans and dishes -- to give thanks to Him!

I am so grateful for you, my sweet, faithful readers. A very happy Thanksgiving to you all!! 

I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty.  I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do all this through Him who gives me strength. ~ Philippians 4:12-13

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

A Living Prayer by Alison Krauss

For I, the LORD, your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, "Fear not, I am the One who helps you. ~ Isaiah 41:13, ESV

An endlessly confusing, exasperating, somewhat troubling and very tiring day.  What a lovely, unexpected gift this was, to come upon this sweet, sweet song just now!  And for me, such a beautiful way to end this day.

May its words and music bring comfort, rest, joy and peace to your mind and spirit.

In Your love I find release,
A haven from my unbelief
Take my life and let me be
A living prayer
My God, to Thee ~ A Living Prayer, written by Ron Block

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Worship Song Sunday -- Not For A Moment (After All) - Live, by Meredith Andrews and the Vertical Church Band

'Even if my father and mother abandon me, the LORD will hold me close.' 
~ Psalm 27:10 (NLT)

The Promise, by Morgan Westling
Some years ago, there was a commercial whose tag line was 'Life Comes At You Fast.'  I wholeheartedly agree with that.  Sometimes, too fast.  And with too much flux. Nothing stays the same and you have no control. 

Like a roller coaster, I can be up one moment and down the next. Some days, it's all I can do just to hold on tightly to the safety bar and hope I don't fly out of my seat! 

Can anyone out there relate to that?

Back in June of 2000, my mother passed away; my father six years earlier. I recall sitting outside on my front steps the morning I received the phone call from the nursing home about my mom, feeling so lost and thinking, 'Wow. I'm officially an orphan.'  Being in my '40s at the time and married with two children, it was such an odd thing to come to mind, but it's how I felt. 

Ever feel that way?  Like an orphan? Neglected, forgotten, abandoned, lost, alone?  

Be encouraged, dear ones.  On days like these -- days where life comes at you at the speed of blur, everything seems out of control, or you're feeling alone and forgotten -- let's remember that we worship, serve and love a great and glorious God.  A God Who is constant. Who is good. Who is sovereign.  A God Who has promised to never leave us nor forsake us. Take some time to sit and saturate yourself with the promises of God in His Word:

I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. ~ John 14:18 (NIV)

For I will be with you as I was with Moses; I will not fail you or abandon you. ~ Joshua 1:5 (NLT)

Let your character or moral disposition be free from love of money [including greed, avarice, lust, and craving for earthly possessions] and be satisfied with your present [circumstances and with what you have]; for He [God] Himself has said, I will not in any way fail you nor give you up nor leave you without support. [I will] not, [I will] not, [I will] not in any degree leave you helpless nor forsake nor let [you] down (relax My hold on you)! [Assuredly not!] ~ Hebrews 13:5 (AMP)

When my father and my mother forsake me, then the LORD will take me up. ~ Psalm 27:10 (AKJV)

Can a woman forget her nursing child, and not have compassion on the son of her womb? Surely they may forget, but I will not forget you. See, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands. ~ Isaiah 49:15-16, NKJV

Remember, I am with you always. ~ Matthew 28:20 HCSB

The Family of God, by Nathan Greene (copyright 1992)
It's my sincere wish that this song will not only allow you to experience a greater sense God's presence as you worship Him in song, but that it will also encourage, inspire, comfort you, and bring you hope.

I heard this song the other day for the first time while waiting for my daughter in her high school's parking lot.  I'm glad I was early and that no one was around, because the words and the music moved me to tears.  I was reminded that I am loved by a holy, good and faithful Father, Who knows where I am at all times and Who hears my cries, because He is right here with me, even when I cannot perceive His Presence. He will not forsake me -- nor you -- not for a moment. 

Monday, November 12, 2012

Close Encounters of the Holy Kind

"And Jacob awoke from his sleep, and he said, 'Surely the LORD is in this place and I did not know it.' He was afraid and said, 'How to be feared and reverenced in this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gateway to heaven!' " ~ Genesis 28:16-17 (AMP)

Jacob's Ladder, by Albert Houthuesen
Have you ever left a church service feeling empty? Ever make a quick exit upon learning your ‘favorite’ preacher or priest wasn’t preaching and teaching?  Did you walk out disappointed because you felt a sermon was boring and did not personally speak to you or address your needs, or because the music wasn’t to your liking? Have you ever gone home unmoved by and unchanged from your time at church? 

I can sincerely say ‘Yes’ to all of the above, with regards to the various churches I've attended at one time or another in my life.

Before the next Saturday night or Sunday morning rolls around, we would do well to ask ourselves:

“Why do I go to church?”

  • Out of guilt?

  • Out of habit?

  • To get to Heaven and to steer clear of Hell?

“What am I looking for when I go?”

  • An explosive, entertaining sound and light experience?

  • A charismatic preacher whose sermons are funny, engaging, not too convicting, and won’t put the congregation to sleep?

  • Tasty hot and cold refreshments, yummy baked goods, comfy seats and a good handle on their climate control?

  • Chances to socialize and network with others?

Dear ones, may I be so bold as to insist that the next time you find yourself standing before the doors of a church, whether it's a church you've been attending for most of your life, or a brand new church you're trying outplease be sure to check your heart motives.  

I know this is something I've been so guilty of NOT doing for the majority of my life, and something I plan on changing immediately. Because to be honest, over the years on most Sunday morning, after trying to herd my son and daughter out the door and into the car, and now an elderly neighbor who needs a ride to services as well, I barely make it to church on time, slipping not so quietly into my seat -- out of breath, frazzled, irritated, distracted and sans ANY expectations of a close encounter with the Holy Spirit. Sadly, I'm more desperate for a cup of hot coffee and for my world to stop spinning and calm down than anything else.

Maybe it's like that for you, too?

However, above any other reasons, we should come to our places of worship to experience a fresh encounter of the presence and power of God’s Holy Spirit; to worship and praise our Lord along with a like-minded, close-knit body of believers.

As you place your hand upon the door handle and prepare to step across the threshold, expect to find Him lovingly and joyfully waiting for you on the other side of that door, waiting to welcome you as you enter in His sanctuary with awe, humility, thanksgiving and gladness!

Coming together in one place to seek the Lord, to give Him all our worship and praise should be our highest honor and privilege, as well as our greatest delight as Christian brothers and sisters. 

Are we desperate for the touch of Adonai?  Desperate for His voice, His healing, His very presence in this place?

I have to wonder what our church services would begin to look like if we became a people of holy expectation and desperation. If we truly surrendered and abandoned ourselves to God, as we stepped barefoot onto the holy ground of our sanctuaries,  with hearts and minds completely focused on Him.  KNOWING without a doubt that YAHWEH awaited US! 

I'd like to do more than just wonder this coming Sunday. How about you?

Let's stop going through the motions of stale and predictable worship each and every Saturday night or Sunday morning. Let's get rid of our little-to-no expectations of ever having an encounter with the Spirit of the Living God. Instead, let's open our hearts and turn our faces up towards our Almighty God and Father, hungry and thirsty for a holy, close encounter with our precious Lord Jesus, desperate for the Holy Spirit's presence in our church -- and in our lives!

Enter His gates with thanksgiving, and His courts with praise! Give thanks to Him; bless His name! ~ Psalm 100:4 (ESV)

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Worship Song Sunday -- Come to the Cross, by Michael W. Smith

"I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me." ~ Galatians 2:20 (NIV)

At the request of someone who is special to me, I am resurrecting Worship Song Sunday.  In our church service this morning, the message was about the cross of Christ -- how the apostle Paul's letter to the Galatians spoke of boasting in the cross, and what a scandalous concept it was for the Jews to wrap their brains around, since the cross was considered a device of torture and a murder weapon. To the Jews, being hung on a cross meant you had fallen under God's judgement.

Yet to followers of Jesus Christ, the cross is a symbol of freedom....freedom from death, freedom from God's wrath because of our sins.  

Only The Cross, by Ron DiCianni
Jesus's death on a cross -- a wooden, rugged, scandalous cross -- has set us free!

Everyone, everyone can come to the cross!
It doesn't matter what you've done,
Everyone can come to the cross! 

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Ready To Forgive

“Be gentle and ready to forgive; never hold grudges. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.”  ~ Colossians 3:13, TLB

As I typed out the above verse, two words stood out to me and the more I stared at the verse, the more those two words kept hitting me right between the eyes: 



Words that don’t allow for much wiggle room. This verse doesn’t say ‘you probably shouldn’t hold grudges.’  Nor does it imply that you might want to consider forgiving others.  It’s quite clear – NEVER hold grudges.  You MUST forgive others.

Again -- I KNOW this is extremely hard. At times, it borders on the impossible. Yet, if we're struggling and wrestling with a spirit of unforgiveness, we need to remember that:

Forgiveness is essential to living as a follower of Christ.  It is a high calling; at the same time, it is a hard calling.  A calling you may have great difficulty in answering. Someone may be reading this right now and think, “But she has NO IDEA what I’ve been through! She doesn’t understand what that person DID to me! I just can’t get over it and I can’t forgive them! Besides, they don’t deserve it!”

I get that, I really, truly do.  I’ve never lost a precious loved one to another's random, stupid, thoughtless decision, or to a premeditated heartless, violent act by someone else. I’ve never experienced the sickening shock of having a spouse confront me after years of marriage to tell me it’s all been a sham and they’re leaving me for someone else.  I've never had a parent turn their back on me, abandon me, or had them stand idly and silently by while allowing another family member to perform unspeakable acts on me.

However -- many years ago, when I was a teenaged girl in what seems now like another lifetime, I was raped by someone I considered a good friend. Raped and literally kicked to the curb on a stormy night, with no way of getting home. Scared.  Ashamed. Angry. And broken. So very broken.

Not many people know this, but my current marriage is actually my second one.  In my first marriage, I was the victim of domestic violence and suffered much physical, mental and emotional abuse at the hands of a man who swore before God, family and friends to love, honor and obey me 'til death do us part. Death was pretty darn close the night he shoved a loaded revolver in my mouth and laughing said, 'Let's play Russian Roulette!' 

I’ve been betrayed by someone I admired greatly, and had malicious, slanderous, ugly gossip spread throughout my office by two friends and coworkers who were like sisters to me.  I’ve been mistreated over and over by those who claimed to love me. I thought I’d forgiven these people, but it took years for me to see, with alarming and humiliating clarity, and through painful, yet cleansing, Christian counseling, that I had failed miserably to do so.

It’s said that harboring unforgiveness is like drinking poison, and expecting the other person to die. I drank deeply from the cup of unforgiveness for a very long time, emptying it often.  And the only person who suffered the consequences, as well as the awful, metallic taste of anger, bitterness and resentment – was me.

Speaking of consequences – here’s a rather unsettling wake-up call for us: if we choose not to forgive another’s transgressions, the result of that choice will be that God won’t forgive us of ours as well.  

Be mindful that forgiveness doesn’t mean we tolerate and condone the sinful behaviors and actions of another.  It’s not making light of or believing and having others believe the offense was no big deal. And, as one wise reader reminded me in a comment on the first post in this Forgiveness trilogy"Forgiveness does not equal trust."  Amen!  South African leader Desmond Tutu, who led his nation through the painful process of forgiveness and reconciliation, had this to say:

“Forgiveness and being reconciled are not about pretending that things are other than they are.  It is not patting one another on the back and turning a blind eye to the wrong.”

And Dr. Gary Inrig, pastor and author, says “Forgiveness looks sin in the eye and nevertheless speaks costly words: ‘I forgive you.’”

Yes, forgiveness can be painful and costly for those of us who are doing the forgiving, especially when the offense has been monumental and the perpetrator shows no signs of remorse nor feels there is any reason for them to be forgiven.  But forgiveness does help to lead and guide us down the path of healing.  The path of peace.  The path of freedom. Forgiveness is indeed a journey. 

“To forgive is to set a prisoner free, and discover that the prisoner…was you.” ~ Lewis B. Smedes

I’m reminded of two amazing stories. One made headlines back in October 2006, when an entire Amish community forgave one man his unimaginably heinous sin of murdering their children in a one room school house in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania.  Forgiving the unforgivable is not a quick and easy offering of a cheap pardon, but an extremely costly gift of grace. 

The other story is of Holocaust survivor Corrie ten Boom, and the incredible act of forgiveness she was able to extend, many years later, to the man who had been one of the guards at Ravensbruck, the concentration camp in which Corrie and her sister, Betsie, had been exiled (and where Betsie eventually was killed).  In both instances, I am blown away by the depth of their extreme forgiveness. 

The only way I believe any of us can even attempt to sincerely forgive is to run to Jesus. He's been there, dear ones.  Right where you and I are, or were, or will be again sometime soon. Jesus has stood in that place -- poised at the crossroads of forgiveness and revenge. And choosing the path of forgiveness. Choosing to forgive the unforgivable, the inexcusable and the impossible.

Forgiven, by Ross Docken
Cry out to Him, lean into Him and rely totally on Him in your weakness.  Look to our precious Savior for help in letting go of all our anger, hatred, bitterness, pain; our vengeful and malicious thoughts, and let His love envelop our heart, mind and spirit.  Allow Him to speak through us and to forgive others through us. This is something we cannot do by ourselves in our own supposed strength, but through Him who strengthens us!  Our Lord may quickly and supernaturally ignite forgiveness in your heart, allowing healing to take place immediately.  Or, as He did with me, He may take you on a longer, slower journey, acting and speaking through a compassionate, trusting Christian counselor. 

Now it's time for the painful, difficult question -- who in your life needs pardoning today, dear one?  To whom do you need to extend the mercy and grace of God? Take a deep breath -- are you ready to forgive?

Most times, at the end of a blog post, I'll include song lyrics or a video of that particular song for how it relates to the story or for its personal meaning for me.  This time, however, I decided to share the video of the story behind the song, 'Forgiveness,' by singer Matthew West. It's a powerful story of a woman who chose, in Christ's strength, to live out the verse below: 

"Get rid of all bitterness rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.  Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ, God forgave you." ~ Ephesians 4:31-32, NIV

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