ADVENTures Day 22–Dark Games

The people walking in darkness
    have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
    a light has dawned. Isaiah 9:2 (NIV)

I come from that generation who played outside until dark. “Be home when the street lights come on!!” my folks would say, and mostly we obeyed. This is a bit of a problem since, well, it’s fun to play in the dark. Every once in a while, in the wintertime when it is dark by 5:15, we would stay outside and play and play until someone stepped out and called us in.

We made this a habit during Christmas break, and I think my mom would let us get away with it just to keep us out of her hair. I understand this, now that I have my own two bairns–my two sweet little angels who woke me up on the first of my 10 vacation days with loud shrieking and the unmistakable sounds of trading punches. Sigh. Peace on earth.

One year during Christmas break, we took to playing hide-and-seek in the dark. I. LOVED. IT. No one could beat me. I had the very best hiding place–right on the front porch. This would be the proverbial hiding in plain sight strategy, except I could just step back into the shadows and no one knew I was there. The biggest danger is giving yourself away by laughing. Someone would come so close, even look directly at that dark corner and never see me.

We were out there until someone called–someone with authority called me by name out of the darkness .

My life before Christ was a little like this. I was a good kid–mostly, but some things about the darkness I found hard to resist. Generally I wanted to be obedient, stay out of trouble, and stay safe. But I held back a little darkness here and there, because it was fun–exciting even. It was obvious from watching the people around me that the darkness–as attractive as it seemed–was truly dangerous. After seeing one or two lives in shreds, I worked at maintaining a balance between light and dark.

But it doesn’t really work that way. You can’t love the light and flirt with darkness.

‘It can be bright with joy if you will do what you should! But if you refuse to obey, watch out. Sin is waiting to attack you, longing to destroy you. But you can conquer it!” Genesis 4:7 (TLB)

And this . . .

Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. I Peter 5:8 (NLT)

God had allowed Israel to be devoured by the nations around them. He spared a remnant, brought them home, and promised them a Savior. The Lord had to teach His own people not to love the darkness–that they couldn’t be His chosen people and sprinkle in practices from pagan religions. What a treacherous, painful lesson for all those people. Yet, we repeat that pattern, don’t we? Isn’t it all too frequent that those who claim Christ as Savior are holding a little bit of darkness back for themselves?

That was my life for a number of years. I had made the decision to follow Christ, but I tried to bring the darkness with me. The Lord in His mercy knew that I had to be taught just how dark the darkness is. I love Psalm 110:75, “I know, O LORD, that your judgments are right, and in faithfulness you have afflicted me.”

My husband’s testimony is a dramatic example of being rescued from darkness. He would tell the story better, but in a nutshell, he made a decision to follow Christ as a kid. When he grew older, like so many of us, he rebelled because he loved to play in the darkness. One night as he was out with some friends, God simply spoke to him. Clearly, Todd heard Him speak. “You don’t need this anymore.” I love this story. I’ve heard him tell it so many times that I knew there was a specific spot on a particular street in Marion, IL, where my husband heard and obeyed the voice of the Lord. When we went home for Thanksgiving, I asked him to take me there and I snapped this picture.

Boulevard

That night put my husband on a collision course with so many things that followed–a call to the ministry, college, seminary, me. I’m so grateful. He shook us both loose from the darkness so that we would be ready for each other.

God, in all His authority, has stepped out of Heaven and called you home. He gave us Jesus, the Light of the world, so that we would have no fear of being devoured by the darkness. If you have received the gift of the Lord Jesus, then you have so many things to praise Him for this Christmas.

If you are still flirting with darkness, are you tired yet? Maybe your life is in shambles because sin has devoured you. It’s not too late. Light has dawned on those living in deep darkness. He has done all these great things for each of us–and yes, also for you! Don’t refuse His gift!

Leave your darkness and run home to the light.

Merry Christmas.

 

ADVENTures Day 18–Highly Favored

Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee called Nazareth,  to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming in, he said to her, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was very perplexed at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this was. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God. And behold, even your relative Elizabeth has also conceived a son in her old age; and she who was called barren is now in her sixth month. For nothing will be impossible with God.” And Mary said, “Behold, the ]bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.  Luke 1:26-38 (NASB)

Well, friends, I’ve missed a few five days. I have no excuse, really. Wait, yes I do. I’m a teacher which means that (pretty much all the time) I chase my tail, herd cats, and all that jazz. We are giving final exams this week, which must be graded, and I am also in the middle of a pile of essays—the ones that I now regret assigning. Anyhoo . . . I’m back with a word.

Today brings us to Mary. Gabriel brings news that turns every atom in her universe inside out. She had been looking forward to a wedding; now she’s to be pregnant and unwed—albeit a virgin, but you know how people are! And these aren’t just people we’re talking about here. These are 1st century Jewish folks. Churches today give a lot of attention (or they should, and if you aren’t, shame on you) as to how to welcome people into our ministries regardless of their background. But back then? It was perfectly acceptable to shun a sinner. In fact, because of the legally binding status of engagement in that society, Mary would have been considered an adulteress. Remember the woman caught in the act of adultery? (John 8:1-11) Was this the kind of treatment that a woman in Mary’s situation would expect?

Still, I don’t see the terror that I would have felt if this announcement had been made to me. The tone of the passage indicates Mary’s thoughtful consideration of the matter. She’s perplexed—not quaking with fear. The angel gives her the rundown of how the Holy Spirit would bring about the pregnancy. I love how he punctuates this explanation of the miraculous—“she who was called barren is now in her sixth month . . . nothing is impossible with God.”

To me, Mary’s reaction to the news indicates precisely why she is favored. God highly approves of this young girl. That’s quite an endorsement. And for this role in human history, it must be. She was given the responsibility of raising our Lord. The amount of trust that God places in Mary is difficult to imagine.

I think Mary’s quiet confidence is an indication of her faith. She must have trusted that if God chose her, He would bring His plan to completion. Any actions her community might take against her were the least of her worries at the moment. Perhaps she already saw the pain that lay ahead—a pain unlike any other, and infinitely deeper than that of an unwed mother. “A sword [would pierce her] own soul,” Simeon said in the next chapter. Absolutely it would.

Then, notice how Mary concludes the meeting, not Gabriel. It almost sounds like she is dismissing God’s angel. “Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.” OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is one of my favorite verses in all of scripture. You see, I think Mary realized that being highly favored meant that a lot would be required of her. In the book of Exodus, a bondservant is described as a slave who loved his master and did not wish to go free. He would then demonstrate his devotion to his master by having his ear pierced with an awl. Mary realizes that she is God’s servant, but she chooses the word bondslave and indicates her love for Him with a willingness to obey in very difficult circumstances. What I hear Mary saying is, “I love the Lord. Go back and tell him I’m ready.”

We are also highly favored. In Christ, God offers His grace—unmerited favor, approval which we don’t deserve and cannot earn. With His favor comes enormous responsibility—to take up our cross and follow Him and bring as many as we can with us. I wonder if we need to hit a reset button somewhere, and like Mary, thoughtfully consider what God requires of us—but also consider what He has done for us.

Honestly, in light of the gift of Christ, I think Mary’s response is the only response.

I love you, Lord. I’m ready.

ADVENTures Day 12–Barren

In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old.

Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside.

Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John.     Luke 1:5-13

Don’t get me wrong–I like all the prophecy/Old Testament connections in Advent readings. But I LOVE THIS. I love the story–THE STORY–of how the arrival of the Son of God came about. Here, all the pieces start to come together. People who had never dreamed of playing a role in Messiah’s story get visits from an angel. Today’s part of the story I revel in–because I remember my days of being childless.

I addressed this passage in a very recent post, Pray Boldly, which I’d love for you to read, but I have more thoughts to add here. Women who can’t have children suffer from peculiar feelings of failure. No matter what the doctor said to convince me I was not to blame for the miscarriages, and I knew there was nothing I could do any differently, I simply could not carry a baby to term and so, was a failure. So I thought. It felt like I wasn’t able to do something that was automatic for every other woman around me. For several years, I kept these feelings to myself; I never even told Todd. Finally I said something to a counselor, who, thankfully, validated those feelings and all of my anger.

For Elizabeth, I imagine these feelings were magnified exponentially because of their culture. If you can’t have children, you must be a sinner. Surely there is a reason God has denied you His blessings–His favor. My generation is kinder, thank God. Yet, in general terms, I struggled with the why. A genetics counselor said to me, when I broke down after sitting in a waiting room for over an hour with a bunch of very pregnant women, “You feel persecuted, don’t you?”

Yes, that’s it. Persecuted. Maybe I’m a little old-fashioned, but I’d imagined my future a certain way. I would work until I got pregnant and then stay home and raise my children. That was my purpose; I was sure of it. Everywhere I turned women were great with child, talking about nothing but motherhood, positively giddy about being stay at home moms.

That’s as close a connection as I can make with Elizabeth. Still, it seems pretty close to the heart of things. If this isn’t to be my role, then what is? And what’s so wrong with me having this role in the first place?

Look what God did for Zechariah and Elizabeth. He gave them the son that Elizabeth said took away her disgrace. More than that, he birthed a new purpose in them. They raised the child that will herald the King of Kings.

I was recast as an adoptive mom. Believe me, I don’t regret it. Looking back, this is just one of many times that God placed my feet on a different path than I would have chosen for myself.Road Sometimes it takes years to see how God was working out some purpose, but it has all been worth it.

You may be in one of those seasons of life. Something you had felt sure of didn’t materialize. What you had believed was your purpose is off the table. It’s heartbreaking, isn’t it? This Christmas, look at those circumstances through the lens of God’s purpose. He works it all for good if you love Him and are called according to His purpose.

I’m praying that this post finds its way to readers who need these words. Grace and peace to you, friends. Merry Christmas.

ADVENTures Day 11–Unwrap

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life,and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.   John 1:1-8 (NIV)

I just wrote a piece over today’s scripture right before Thanksgiving, and I don’t think I can dig deep enough to come up with any additional insights right now! I’m actually quite proud of that piece, so I hope you take a look at An Inestimable Masterpiece for thoughts on John 1:3-5.

But I’m not posting without anything new to share. I’d love for you to take a look at this video produced by the students at the school where I teach. I started on my ADVENTures with the goal of meditating on the scriptures and looking expectantly each day to Christ. What I’ve found is that the running theme through my ADVENTures posts has been Christ’s worth, the incomprehensible value of our salvation. This video so beautifully portrays how easily we brush aside a truly priceless, phenomenal gift.

God uses circumstances to get our attention. But His real purpose is to reveal our need for salvation and point us to the Cross. I hope you will unwrap that gift this Christmas and recognize its worth. Glory to the newborn King!

 

ADVENTures Day 9 or (10ish)–Rights? What Rights?

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God–children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. John testified concerning him. He cried out, saying, “This is the one I spoke about when I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.'” Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.  John 1:9-18 (NIV)

So . . . I missed another day. But I didn’t miss because I was too tired. I missed because I was spending time with my family! That’s a good excuse, right? After a game of Wahoo that put my daughters at each other’s throats, we went light lookin’ (my husband’s term). I had about half of this post written and wanted more time to finish than thirty minutes before my face hit the pillow. Here ya go . . .

I tell my students routinely that they don’t have rights. As you might expect, this provokes some protest. “What??? We have freedom of speech! Freedom of expression!!” And we’re in Arkansas, so, figure on at least one kid per class getting really upset that I’m not acknowledging their 2nd amendment rights. But obviously I’m not in favor of wiping anyone’s Constitutional rights off the books.

Follow me on this. Do you have a right before God to say whatever you want in any way you want? No. The bible says we’ll be held accountable for every careless word that drops from our lips. Women’s rights activists claim that I have the right to choose what to do with a pregnancy. Is that a claim that can be made before God? I’d like to see you try. Or maybe I wouldn’t. The government and its laws allow me plenty of room to act immorally. Do I have a right before God to do those things? Certainly not.

I’ve only seen a couple of places in scripture where the word right is used in this way. Prior to in-depth bible study, like any American, I assumed that documents written by the founding fathers were akin to the gospel. And like any American, I’m grateful that I live in a country where I can speak my mind without fear, assemble to worship the one true God–again, without fear–and I’m not giving up my 2nd amendment rights either.  Political rights and human rights–these are good things, very necessary things, to ensure (or at least strive toward) the safety and equal treatment of all people.

But in terms of my relationship with God, having rights is an illusion. Rights empower me, and when I feel empowered, I tend to make myself an idol. Then I quickly screw something up, rather badly, and find out that I’m not God for a variety of good reasons. As I’ve come to know Him more intimately, I realize how I’ve allowed that American sense of entitlement poison my perception of things. Everything that I have came from Him. Everything. I said to my students once, “Breathe in. Breathe out. God did that. Now thank Him–because you didn’t give you life.”

In this passage, we find that those who receive the Lord Jesus and believe in His name are given the right to become children of God. It’s a curious use of that word. He may be extending to me a right, but it’s the right to be a child–dependent, maybe even helpless–under the absolute authority of an all-powerful God. My political rights give me the power to challenge authority if the need arises. God is in authority over all of us–whether we choose to acknowledge that authority or not. His power is absolute, which would be threatening if He weren’t also just, righteous, and good.

The right to be a child of God means that my status has changed–my days of slavery have ended; the King has adopted me and paid for it with His blood. Forever I will have the right to lean entirely on the power of my Father. That’s a radical gift for many, many reasons–not the least of which is that I get to depend on Him rather than myself. I’ll gladly give up entitlement in order to have the pressure transferred to someone who can truly handle it!

What we have in the Lord is favor which is unmerited and cannot be earned. “Out of His fullness, we have all received grace . . .” Lots of gifts will be exchanged this Christmas, some quite expensive. We will interpret the value of each gift, sometimes because of the expense, sometimes based on a gift’s usefulness, or maybe a gift is priceless in our eyes because of the identity of the giver.

In being given a Savior, we have value in all three. It is priceless, it is eternal. The Giver of Grace IS THE GIFT, and He IS priceless and eternal.

giver of grace

 

Lord, open our eyes to see the incomparable value of Your gift to us.

ADVENTures Day 4–Competition or Contentment?

Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?” He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.” And he said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

So the Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this,

“Cursed are you above all livestock
and all wild animals!
You will crawl on your belly
and you will eat dust
all the days of your life.
 And I will put enmity
between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;
he will crush your head,
and you will strike his heel.” Genesis 3:8-15 (NIV)

I had kind of a rotten day today. It began when my clock was mysteriously set an hour ahead. I had been up and making the kids’ lunches, going about the business of getting myself out the door on time, when I realized it was 4:45 AM. I’d gone to sleep after midnight to begin with. The day went steadily downhill from there.

My eyes are crossing, but I want to write!!!

It wasn’t too long ago when I noticed something about Satan and Eve. He tempted her with the same thing that got him into trouble with God—he wanted God’s status. Poor Eve. She and Adam had all they could ever want or need from God—He even walks out to them in the garden, for crying out loud. Life for them wanted absolutely nothing. But all the devil had to do was imply that God was holding out—that there was something desirable that He was jealously guarding—His knowledge.

Go on. Take it. You surely will not die. God just knows it will make you divine, that’s all.

We could become all judge-y about Eve’s response to this temptation. Certainly we would never give in so easily to FRUIT. She sets a pattern, though, which we all—every last blessed one of us—have followed. She chose competition over contentment.

We may not consciously think that we can compete with God, but we do have our prideful hang-ups, right? This morning, as my day unraveled, I was awash with a familiar sense of failure. It is the plague of perfectionism. I screw up—then I’m an emotional pile for a few hours at best. At its worst? Sometimes it takes me a week or two to rebound. Repeatedly God convicts me that this is an area of my life which competes with my devotion to Him. Feeling driven to have things my way and accomplished in my strength is an addiction to bringing glory to me. And, believe me, every single time I crash and burn, I miss the contentment of looking to God for strength and being “called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). It feels good, first of all, to be in such close fellowship with Him that I’m a part of what He’s doing rather than setting my own agenda. Even better, it takes the pressure off. There’s a reason that He’s God and I’m not.

Today’s scripture shows how God allowed Eve to play a small part in His plan for Satan. The Savior will be born from Eve’s offspring. The act that redeems us from evil defeats evil. Jesus will crush the devil with the Cross. Check out this scene from The Passion of the Christ:

I’m tired, but I’m loving this Advent thing. More tomorrow.

 

 

 

Adventures in Advent–Day 1

Thanksgiving was kind of late this year, so forgive me if I’m impatient for hauling out the holly and such. It’s time–I’ve been waiting since Dec. 26th for this! I’ve been scrolling recipes and planning all the yummies I’m going to make for my favorites. In fact, I need to rescue that recipe with the sausage and cream cheese filled croissants from my news feed before it gets buried, never to be recovered. The good Rev agrees that it will make a fine addition to Christmas breakfast—along with lots of coffee, wassail, monkey bread and whatever else I pin between now and my last trip to the store.

The tree is already up–because I wanted my halls pre-decked when I get home from Thanksgiving at the farm. We jump-started the season a few weeks ago with some sweet friends who joined us for a holiday-ish dinner. Then we lovingly unpacked all our old ornaments, hung (Or hanged? All those years teaching English and I even googled it, but it sounds wrong!) the stockings by the chimney with care, and watched my new favorite, Arthur Christmas. It’s a must see. The reindeer with the cone of shame is my favorite.

I’ve already dreamed up 101 crafty ideas to make my holidays more festive . . . or impressive, maybe. Realistically, I have neither the talent nor stylish taste to bring any of those lofty projects together. The time is already so short that I have predestined myself to feel like a total loser for not getting a Christmas card mailed for the fifth year in a row. Every year I intend to do something special for my students. It never happens. Ever since Eden’s first Christmas, I planned to put together an Advent calendar and do a family devotional every night. You guessed it. Never happened.

Like every year since we had kids, we’ll make a plan to stick to some kind of a gift budget. Then we’ll find some excuse reason not to—usually because we’re in the middle of buying for each other and find just the right thing to push us over the limit. Furthermore, I will completely stress out over one or two gifts, and I will get NOTHING in the mail on time.

It’s not even December 1st, and I’m already tangled up in a list of to-do’s which I will either to-do late, to-do wrong, or simply to-don’t. Except for the food. I pretty much nail that every year.

I don’t usually think of myself as the person who sells out Christmas for materialism, and I really don’t overload my schedule so much that I don’t enjoy myself. But that’s not to say that the things I do for Christmas have any greater purpose than glorifying the season—not glorifying the Son.

I’m not going to pretend that my usual routine will happen any differently this year. If I make any promises or come anywhere near setting a goal, then I’ll get all perfectionist-y (my husband’s word) and make myself feel horrible for falling short. What I can do is—what’s the word? change my settings? I’ll reset myself for Advent—and place a special emphasis on its purpose—preparing my heart for the coming Christ.

I don’t think that means that I’ll buy fewer gifts. We buy almost nothing beyond necessities for our kids throughout the year. I don’t think I’m slighting Jesus if I buy them jammies with penguin slippers that squeak when they walk, and books (lots of books), and a special toy for each curly headed girly. I’m sure I won’t change my cooking routine. I mean, that’s just crazy talk. That’s the one thing I do with any measure of success during the holidays. Plus, that’s just punishing the family and how would that bring any glory to God????

The purpose of Advent is affirming and celebrating the past, that God came and walked among us—and looking expectantly to the future, that He is coming again. From the looks of things (globally speaking), that day may be not be far off. All the more reason to have a heart prepared. All the more reason to make the most of this coming month—when Jesus is on everyone’s lips and placed decoratively everywhere—and exhaust ourselves proclaiming the truth of Christ. He became man to save man.

In an attempt to reset my holiday traditions with more purpose, and in hopes of sharing some of that journey, I plan to post each day between now and Christmas. My personal hope (not goal—that makes it too much about me!) is to mediate on the scriptures and look expectantly each day to Christ, and in doing so make each holiday activity rich with the purpose of pointing to Him and His invitation to salvation. I am eager for whatever insight God has for me. Here’s the first scripture–

“Comfort, comfort my people,”
says your God.
“Speak tenderly to Jerusalem.
Tell her that her sad days are gone
and her sins are pardoned.
Yes, the Lord has punished her twice over
for all her sins.”

Listen! It’s the voice of someone shouting,
“Clear the way through the wilderness
for the Lord!
Make a straight highway through the wasteland
for our God!
Fill in the valleys,
and level the mountains and hills.
Straighten the curves,
and smooth out the rough places.
Then the glory of the Lord will be revealed,
and all people will see it together.
The Lord has spoken!”

He came—for you and me.

He’s coming—for you and me.

Christmas picture 2

My sad days are gone. My sins are pardoned. Comfort and joy! Let’s do this!