Tuesday, December 30, 2014

In His Presence

On Christmas Day, I awoke with this thought and prayer on my mind, "God, it is good to be in your presence." The day I had been preparing for and anticipating had arrived. The day of Christ's birth was here! Emmanuel - God with us - had come! And, once again, God had overwhelmed me with his presence and revealed his mighty works.

You see, the weeks leading up to Christmas were work for me. Not physical labor, but spiritual. I had been convicted of bitterness and was on a spiritual journey, to rid myself of a stony, stubborn heart, and replace it with one of softness and tenderness. One that was God-willed, instead of self-willed. For the weeks leading up to Christmas, I took myself away from the distraction of social media for several days at a time, I prayed Ezekial 36:26 multiple times each day, and I made myself accountable by sharing my struggle with a select few.

And, God showed up. True to his faithful and loving character. Answering my prayers and overwhelming me with his presence and power, just as he had so many times before.

O Lord, you have examined my heart and know everything about me.
You see me when I travel and when I rest at home. You know everything I do.
 - Psalm 139:1,3 -

I want to be seen by God. I want him to notice me. Although I know that he has always seen me, it hasn't always felt that way. 

It's like before my husband and I began dating. He noticed me. But, I didn't see it because I was too distracted by other things. I may have been looking at another guy or stressing about my looming finals. It wasn't until I really looked at him that I saw him for what he was, what he always had been - someone who was loving, cherishing and pursuing me. The same is true for God. 
I needed to notice him noticing me before we could truly be in relationship.

This year, my goal was to be empty. To rid myself of my own motives and let God fill me with his. To discover his purpose for my life. While I don't think I discovered all the answers in this process of being empty, I did become more aware of God, his character and his presence. I noticed him noticing me...and, it was overwhelming.

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too great for me to understand!
 - Psalm 139:6 -

That's the feeling I want more in 2015. I want to be in awe of him. I want to be amazed. Overwhelmed.

Earlier this year, I was drawn to Psalm 139. I read it and re-read it and hoped to memorize it. But, life got in the way. Distractions happened - some of them good - and I didn't get it committed to memory. This past weekend, I found myself without a passage to study and I once again turned to Psalm 139. I read it and re-read it, mediating on it's truth and my desire to breathe it into my life - to feel it and live it everyday.

The note in my study Bible says this regarding the theme of Psalm 139, "God is all-seeing, all-knowing, and everywhere present. God knows us, God is with us, and his greatest gift to allow us to know him."

This year, I opened my hands as a sign of readiness, so that God could fill me with his presence and purpose. As a result, he revealed more of himself to me.

Nothing we do can make God any bigger than He already is. 
But we have the capacity to enlarge & magnify God in our hearts.
- Christine Caine

In 2014 I learned many things about God that, despite being a Christian for over 32 years, I had never truly acknowledged before. Among them, the idea that God makes small things mighty. He can take our simple acts of obedience and multiply them into something extraordinary. Just like he took a young boy’s lunch – of five loaves of bread and two fish - and fed 5,000 people, he can take an invitation to dinner and turn it into an incredible blessing for a friend. Or, use a seemingly random, kind word to turn someone’s day around. In 2014, he also used my obedience and worked in the lives of the women of my church; he saw to it that friends were made, trust was built and the gift of salvation was accepted. I did my part and then God did his. It was amazing!

My goal for 2015 is to experience more of that - more of God's favor. To give the word overwhelmed a new reputation. 

I want to notice too much of God, seeing him everywhere and in every thing. To be weighed down by the miraculous work of the Holy Spirit. And, undone by the love, grace, goodness, and mercy of God.

For everything comes from him and exists by his power and is intended for his glory. 
Romans‬ ‭11:36 -

It is good to be in the presence of the Lord. It is good to know that he is with us.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Journey to Bethlehem

Have you ever wondered what it would have been like to travel to Bethlehem at the time of Jesus’ birth?

This year my church is providing a new Christmas tradition for our community - a live-action, drive-through journey to Bethlehem. Giving the participants and opportunity to encounter the people and places that were a part of the amazing story of Jesus' birth. 

I was privileged to be able to put together the narration that participants will listen to as they drive through a busy marketplace, visit Herod’s palace, and come, along with shepherds and wise men, to the manger – the birthplace of Jesus.

I am sharing a revised version of the written narration with you today, so that you can reflect on the importance of this event and/or share with others who may need the hope that it offers.

artwork by This Girls Doodles
Our story begins with a couple, Mary and Joseph, who respond to a clear invitation from God, setting in motion a series of events that change their ordinary lives forever. 

At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire. All returned to their own ancestral towns to register for this census. And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea.

Months before their journey to Bethlehem began, both Mary and Joseph were visited by Angels of the Lord.

First, Mary, a young Jewish woman, received word, “Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her, “for you have found favor with God! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus.”

Although Mary was unsure of how this could happen, she trusted in the angel’s words, believing that nothing is impossible with God.

Once Mary became pregnant, Joseph, as her fiancĂ©, had a big decision to make. Mary was engaged to him, yet had become pregnant. Joseph was a good man, so he decided to break the engagement quietly. However, the Lord had other plans for Joseph. An angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. You are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

It was with great eagerness that the Jewish people had been anticipating the coming of their Messiah. Mary and Joseph understood what Jesus’ birth and life would mean to their people. In fact, Mary considered herself blessed that the Lord would fulfill his promises through her.

There is another character in our story, however, who was not pleased to learn of the Messiah’s coming birth. This man was Herod, a Roman-appointed king and dictator, who saw this baby as a tremendous threat to his power.

Near the time of Jesus’ birth, some star-gazing wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.”

King Herod was so disturbed when he heard this that he told them, “Go to Bethlehem and search carefully for the child. And when you find him, come back and tell me so that I can go and worship him, too!”

After this, the star guided the wise men to Bethlehem. Once there, they bowed down and worshiped Jesus, giving him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. When it was time to leave, the wise men returned to their own country by another route, for God had warned them in a dream not to return to Herod.

That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior has been born today in Bethlehem.” 

Suddenly, the angel was joined by others praising God and saying, “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”

Mary and Joseph had reached Bethlehem. And while they were there, the time came for the baby to be born. Mary gave birth to her first child, a son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them.

After the birth of Jesus, the manger where he lay became a place of worship. Those who had been searching, the shepherds and the wise men, had finally reached the throne of the newborn king.

The birth of this baby, Jesus, was good news, not simply because of what happened that night in Bethlehem, but for what was to come some 30 years later. Jesus grew to be a man with a ministry; he taught truth and performed miracles. He suffered death on a cross, rose from the grave and is seated with God in Heaven.

Because of Jesus’ miraculous birth, life and his death and resurrection we have the opportunity to be a part of God’s story. God loves you so much, and invites you to put your trust in Jesus Christ His Son, so you can know his peace in your heart, both now and forever.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Prepare Him Room {Advent 2014}

The Christmas season is upon us! My house is almost completely decorated, I have presents purchased, the smells of peppermint and gingerbread have begun to fill my kitchen and Sunday brought the arrival of Advent.

Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. 
Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? 
I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. 
- Isaiah 43:18-19 -

Advent means the waiting on the arrival of something important. It is an anticipation and expectation of something of great significance. In our house, while we give gifts and fill stockings, we do our best to recognize that the reason we celebrate Christmas is because of Jesus. 

In order to acknowledge the significance of the season, last year, as a family of five, we sat together each Sunday evening reading scripture, praying, and lighting a candle on our advent display. The kids loved it so much that, as soon as the Christmas decorations came out last week, they asked if we were going to "do advent" again. This past Sunday, we discussed the word hope. I was amazed at their understanding of the biblical perspective of hope, recognizing that it wasn't simply wishing for something, but having faith in it's imminent arrival. A faith which can only come from knowledge and trust in Christ.

Altough last year I completed an online advent study, this year God put it on my heart to gather a group of women who could walk through an advent study together. There are ten of us and we met last night for the first time. It was disorganized and messy. But, it was also simple and honest. We discussed hope and what it means for us to find Jesus among the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season. My purpose, which I truly believe is God's purpose, for this study is to bring these women closer to Jesus and the "new thing" that God is doing in them during this season. And, to lead them to self-reflection, which results in action.

Naptime Diaries Advent Prints
Advent is more than just a countdown to Christmas. It is an opportunity to prepare ourselves for the arrival of our savior. Even though Jesus was born more than 2000 years ago, we still need to celebrate the miracle of his birth and the fact that he is so much more than just a baby in a manger. Jesus grew to be a man with a ministry; he taught truth and performed miracles. He suffered death on a cross, rose from the grave and is seated with God in Heaven. 

This year my goal is to make the anticipation of Christmas just as special as the event itself. Our world is full of many messages about the meaning of Christmas, most of which are counter to the true meaning. Therefore, there is a need for us to prepare our hearts and minds to receive the intended spirit of Christmas. For the manger and for the cross. 

How will you prepare Him room?