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Sunday grace – the body of Christ

 

How wonderful it is, how pleasant, for God’s people to live together in harmony! Psalm 133:1

Arriving home late afternoon yesterday, my body felt drained from a long day, but my heart had been filled. 

Sweet William and I attended the visitation and funeral of a long-time friend. Our lives intertwined with his family when we were teens, and while we’ve not frequented the same circles regularly, the friendship remained precious. He and his wife married the same year as us. Their first born arrived the same year as ours. She is an only child, like me. We were intermingled by in-laws, church community, and a long history of loving Jesus. 

His service was beautiful, touching, bringing tears to my eyes as three ministers spoke of his life, his joy, and his faith. I hummed the old songs along with the soloists. 

As anticipated, there were people from the home church where I basically grew up. I was only about 13 years old when I was first asked to play the organ for services, my knees literally knocking at times, the anxiety of wanting to play perfectly without really knowing what I was doing. Several people at the visitation reminded me I had played for their weddings five decades past. I smiled, remembering what a novice I was and what confidence they put in me for their momentous day.  

I saw many of the church family who grew up with me. It was there we matured into young adults, married and had babies. The year our son was born, it seemed there was a baby shower every three months. I reminisced about the spirit-filled services, the powerful sermons, the youth choir that grew into an adult choir because no one wanted to leave. I remember the difficult musical arrangements that forced me to practice and become a better musician. The hours of music Sweet William and I played to prepare and serve added to good years and good memories. 

These are the people who saw me, knew when I messed up, heard the words that should have been inside thoughts, and they still love me.  

We are the older generation now, the ones with grey/balding/dyed heads, wrinkled and sometimes a bit wobbly, talking about our surgeries and the pills we take each morning to get us moving. We have pictures of grandchildren and a few great-grandchildren on our cell phones. We have buried parents and siblings. We have known joy and grief.   

This is the church, the body of Christ, the family of God. It is imperfect and flawed because the people in it are imperfect and flawed, sinners who were saved by grace and are still learning to walk as faithful pilgims. We have lived and experienced life. We made mistakes, fell down and got up again, often with the aid of a fellow sojourner. We’ve grown wiser and deeper in our faith because we have seen God in the living and the dying, in the pain and in the celebration, in answered prayers and those we still wait and hope for. We know in Whom we believe as we wait for our imperfection to be made perfect one heavenly day by the grace of God. 

It seems the church is suffering from bad PR these days. No doubt, people have suffered at the hands of individual church people. That does not make the Church of Jesus Christ a sham or fake. It is made up of broken people, redeemed by the blood of Christ, walking by faith and limping our way Home.  

As I rested on this lazy Sunday afternoon, I began to clean up old text messages on my phone. The process stalled as I read texts from the ending of 2021, when Sweet William and I had covid, when my cousin died in December, when I fractured my ankle on Christmas Day. Contained in those typed missives were comforting words, promised prayers, and love that came through the key strokes. It was the church ministering to us and we were strengthened by their devotion and concern. 

Countless times the church has come to our aid, bringing food, helping with household tasks, visiting and praying, even cleaning refrigerators and an overgrown yard. The church I know is going about the Father’s work, being the hands and feet of Jesus to such as I, again and again. 

The church will one day bury me, as it did our friend yesterday, transferring his church membership to Heaven. They will bring food and their presence, sing the songs and speak the Word. They will offer comfort to family left to grieve and remember. They will be at my ending like they were at my earliest childhood. 

In His closing remarks to His disciples, Jesus prayed that they might be one as He and the Father are one. It is a lofty goal among all of us who are so different and opinionated and sometimes even a little contrary. But the love Jesus gives, the love that fills us and binds us together, will make the prayer a little more of a reality.  

On days like yesterday, we are one. 

Photo by pixels.com

Sunday graces

I wander the gardens, admiring the beauty of flowers blooming in spite of me. I’m a wanna-be gardener who sows with hope. Hope the plant will live and thrive though I don’t prepare the soil well or provide enough fertilizer. Hope that I won’t kill it by neglect or accidently chop it with the weed eater.

Photo by Lyndsey Craven

It’s June and summer peaks around the corner, while spring lingers like a ballerina doing a finale on stage. I applaud her. Much rain brings grass that cannot be contained by the lawn mower, as insects enjoy both flowers and weeds growing in the midst of Kentucky fescue.

Early spring I wrapped tiny twinkle lights around posts on the back deck. They greet me in the pre-dawn morning, and I smile. Sweet William spotted a young dear near the edge of the little woods this week, and regularly we hear the jungle sounds of Pileated Woodpeckers whose young inhabit near us. Song of birds waking the day never fails to delight. It’s the little things, the simple gifts God gives to lighten the load of a world weighed down with heaviness and grief.

A friend just started chemo, another faces the anniversary of her husband’s death, and another just buried her son-in-law. I hear from my young companions dealing with anxiety, too much for those who should be savoring this adventurous time in their lives. Faces of family linger in my mind all day long, me breathing prayers to the Father who knows what they need. The world is not an easy place to live. Heartache and sorrow are nightly news and as close as the front porch.

This week I’m reading the Psalms. Again. They are my Go-To for all the emotions. Verses are marked in my Bible, dates written, and memories surface when I revisit this ancient hymn book.

Psalm 121 is my resting place this morning, familiar as my childhood. I regularly exercise these verses by memory. I recommit them to my heart today. The Holman Christian Standard version speaks beautifully.

I lift my eyes toward the mountains. Where will my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.

It is easy to look for help from other people and places. Friends, counselors, Google. It’s just as easy to wonder where the help is and when is it coming. Fact is, where can I go for what I need but to Jesus? He is the One who speaks Words of Life. He alone is Truth in changing values and ideologies.

He will not allow your foot to slip; your Protector will not slumber.
Indeed, the Protector of Israel does not slumber or sleep.

Protector is such a beautiful description. When I turn off my light at bedtime, punch my pillow and pull up the quilt, I give myself permission to rest in peace, because my Protector does not close His eyes or become weary like me. He is watchful. He knows I am flesh, growing older, my earthly tent wearing a little thin. He was there at my beginning and is my promised Protector to the end. I need fear no evil.

The Lord protects you; the Lord is a shelter right by your side.
The sun will not strike you by day or the moon by night.

I am often thankful for this old house where Sweet William and I take refuge from storms, cold and burning heat. At bedtime, I double check doors and locks, yet I know it is the Father who is our Mighty Warrior of defense. “He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High will abide under the shadow of the Almighty.” And I sing a familiar refrain, “under His wings I am safely abiding.”

The Lord will protect you from all harm; He will protect your life.
The Lord will protect your coming and going both now and forever.

I know enough by living long, that trouble comes to all. We get hurt and we get sick. We suffer the blows of living in a broken world. So what do I do with these verses? I believe there is a spiritual harm from which I am protected when I am sheltered in the cross of Christ Jesus. Paul said it rightly, ” . . . we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.” (2 Corinthians 4:16)

Renewed day by day. I am hoping in that promise, a sure expectation that God will do more than I can expect or imagine. He is good and He is strong. He will be with my coming and my going, from my beginning to my earthly ending, into the forever with Him. Hallelujah!

As I walked the yard yesterday, I see flowers growing in the rocks. I remember last year when a marigold pushed through the blacktop driveway and flourished with blooms and gladness. Seeds are scattered by the wind, and with determination of the Creator’s design, they sprout in spite of the harshness of their environment. I stand amazed and gaze at their resiliency.

Can I be the same? Can I go where the wind of the Spirit blows, bear fruit in a harsh place because the Creator of my Salvation calls it forth in me?

I believe it is possible, because the power in me is not my own making. The Holy Spirit lives and breathes, abides and speaks, teaches and guides always. He is the voice of Yahweh to me. Mostly He whispers. I have to listen carefully, push away the yelling and arguments of a culture that would drown out His tender voice.

When I rest the Scriptures in my lap in the morning, I posture myself to listen, open my heart to hear, quiet my soul of its own clamering and complaints. It takes purpose, planning, time. It is important, and I must do it. It takes priority over all other tasks in my day.

The Lord who brings forth food and flowers from the earth for my sustenance and joy, He who is the Word from the beginning, He who is guide and strength for my journey – He is my constant Companion, my Protector, the Keeper of my soul.

My help comes from the Lord.

Sunday grace.

It was a Good Friday, it was a Holy Friday

Good Friday.  Why do we call it good?  From all appearances, that day looked like anything but good.

The Passion of Christ

A false arrest in the wee hours of the morning.  Friends who ran in fear.  One denies he even knew Him.  One betrays Him for a pittance.

Accusations that fly in the face where slaps and spit follow.  Soldiers who had any compassion trained out of them, beating Him to near death.

Mocking words that contradict all He ever said.  A crowd jeering, crying out for death.  Religious leaders leading the rabble-rousers.  Political leaders afraid to do what is right.

A heavy, splintered cross laid on a back where the flesh was already torn away.  Crown of thorns piercing the brow with its poison.  A long and hard Via Dolorosa.  Golgotha in view.

Sound of nails in flesh and sinew.  Thud of crosses in deep holes.  Cries of pain and agony that only the crucified know.

A few lone followers, women and John, deep in the throes of grief and grasping for some understanding behind all this suffering and finality to a ministry that flourished only a week ago.

Alone. Forsaken. Separated.   Darkness. Earthquake. Storm. Death.

Sin exposed to the judgment of a Holy God.

Nothing of this day looked good.  This was a day gone horribly wrong.

Or was it?

“The King of the Jews” was written in three languages, a foretaste of the Gospel preached to all nations.

A thief on another cross entered into Paradise, giving us hope that salvation is still offered at the very last hour for those who believe.

Two secret disciples, Joseph of Arametha and Nicodemus, come out of hiding to do the right thing and acknowledge the One who came from God.

Forgiveness offered from a heart only understood by a loving Heavenly Father.

Words spoken from parched and bleeding lips that shout the victory battle cry, “It is finished!”

A veil torn in two so that all people will know they are welcomed into The Presence.

The penalty paid in full, judgment recompensed.

A Redeemer revealed

Blood of The Lamb poured out to take away the sin of the world.

The Plan, laid foundationally eons before by Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, brought to completion.

And I see it.  And it is good!

Remembering the cross of Christ I recall my sins and His suffering.  My debt and His payment.  My hopelessness and His free gift.  My searching and His seeking love.  My past and now my future.

Jesus paid it all.  All to Him I owe. 
Sin had left a crimson stain.  He washed it white as snow.

Good Friday.  It was a good day – for me and for the world.

And remember, Sunday is on the way.

Reposted from 2013

Sunday grace

Sometimes I cannot get something out of my head. As I read the Gospel account of the Passover preparations, this thing stays with me.

Jesus sent Peter and John to look for a man carrying a water jar. He told them to ask him about the guest room and to follow him and make preparations for their Passover celebration.

There’s a lot going on here that would seem to be women’s work in first century Judea. Carrying water. Making a room ready. Preparing a Passover meal.

It was no small task to clean and cook. There were details the Jewish people knew from Scripture that needed to be exacting. There were traditions they had gathered around tables for hundreds of years, foods and added activities that helped the people to remember and provided a means to teach their children.

I wonder, did Peter and John have any help? Did they feel this was demeaning, this task of preparing a meal? Or did they feel special, being appointed for this assignment, because, well, they were the “important disciples?” I don’t know, but I’ve been considering these questions.

When I’m required to do lowly work, what are my first thoughts and attitude? If I’m asked to do something that will bring me public acclaim or at least a pat on the back, how do I respond, knowing it will surely be noticed? When the job is unseen, maybe even unappreciated, are my thoughts pure or disgruntled? Am I simply glad to serve or am I annoyed that I have to?

I don’t need to tell you the answer. My pride may be showing up more than what humility I think I possess. I’ve been faced with both kinds of responsibilities this week, and there’s been some heart examination going on.

In the upper room, with all preparations completed, dinner table discussion ensued among the twelve about who was the greatest. It was not their first time on this topic. And it was not the first time Jesus tried to explain and show them that the least in the kingdom will be the greatest. A little child is of utmost importance to Him, He told them, and should be to those who want to be a disciple. They were dull of hearing. Sometimes I am too.

Jesus took a towel and a basin, knelt before one man, removed a shoe and began to wash one dirty foot at a time, all the way around the table. They were shocked, dismayed. Peter protested. What kind of common posture was their Lord and Master taking, Him on the floor before the likes of them?

 “Do you understand what I was doing? You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and you are right, because that’s what I am. And since I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you. I tell you the truth, slaves are not greater than their master. Nor is the messenger more important than the one who sends the message. Now that you know these things, God will bless you for doing them.” –John 13:12-17 NLT

I wonder how often those men talked of that night and remembered the time their Savior washed their feet? I believe the message finally got through to them: after they saw their risen Lord, after they were filled with the Holy Spirit, after their eyes were opened to the plan God had been working out all along.

The disciples and those under their teaching would write of servanthood, of doing as Christ had done.

“God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another.” –1 Peter 4:10 NLT

“Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions.” — 1 John 3:18 NLT

“Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honor preferring one another.” –Romans 12:10 NLT

The early church’s lesson is my lesson to learn. To serve in love. To serve without complaining. To serve when no one is watching. To serve with a heart of joy. Because in serving I reflect the heart of Christ. He made the role of Servant a high calling.

Beth Moore says, “. . . we may have no idea as to the significance of the work God has called us to do.”

The work He calls us to do might be to speak before thousands. It could be to nurture a child’s heart. It could be in the public eye where many will notice. Or it might be an obscure room where we kneel down and wash another’s feet.

The work of Christ is worthy, no matter what He calls me to do. There is a blessing in store when I do whatever He asks. And so I pray:

Search me, O God my Savior, and know my heart. Test me and know my anxious and self-centered thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends You. Lead me in the path You took, the path of righteousness, the path of servanthood. I want to follow You by serving others.

Sunday grace.

Walking toward Passover

The moon tonight will be at her full. I’ve been watching it for days, early mornings as it illuminates still darkened rooms, anticipating. Recently I heard someone say he did not rise until the sun was up. I thought, “Oh, you don’t know what you are missing.” The pre-dawn is my favorite time of day. Perhaps it is my introverted self who enjoys the stillness, with only the flicker of gas logs and perking coffee while all else is quiet. My mind is at rest before an active day begins.

I notice the moon before I’m out of bed, shining through the blinds. It is a sign, a sign of the coming Passover celebration, only a month away. Because Passover always begins on a full-moon evening.

Passover tells the story of the nation of Israel being released from the bondage of Egypt. The traditional meal will be eaten as the events of the exodus are recounted in detail. It is a time of teaching the young, a time to remember past slavery, a time to give thanks for God’s deliverance, and a time to celebrate redemption with family and friends.

I love to think of and celebrate Passover for it has deep significance for me as a Christ follower. Jesus’ last meal with his friends in an upper room was the event of Passover. It was the occasion of Him giving them His last words of encouragement and instruction. It was there He told them to love one another just like He had loved them. That last dinner was a tender time of communion with those who had been with Him through victories and miracles and hopes for the coming kingdom of God.

During Passover, Jesus washed the dirty feet of a dozen men, took a towel and served them on His knees to their astonishment and protests. He was Lord and Master. How could He be doing this lowly, slave-like task? They could not grasp it as He told them they would be blessed if they did the same.

At the Passover table Jesus revealed that one would betray Him, stirring up confusion, suspicion, and self-doubt. Who could possibly do such a thing? And for what reason? Besides, these were able-bodied, strong men who would surround and protect their Teacher? No, that could not happen.

Jesus implored His friends to abide in Him, to dwell in, find their home and comfort in His presence and love like a branch receives life from the vine. Little did they realize that He would soon be taken forcefully from them, with the worst days of their lives on the heels of Jesus’ arrest. They would need a place to go, a shelter under the shadow of the Almighty, as their world reeled and shook with the events during a Passover weekend.

They did not understand, those faithful followers, men and women alike, what Jesus was about to accomplish. Though He tried to tell them on other occasions, they were dull of hearing, listening to their own thoughts of triumphing over their enemies, of securing an earthly kingdom where they would sit at Jesus’ left and right, ruling and reigning with Him. Victory and conquest, that is what they were expecting.

Instead, there would be soldiers, an arrest, a fleeing for their very lives. Denial and forsaking their Master. Darkness and chaos. A mock trial with rabble rousers calling for the release of a criminal instead of the innocent Lamb of God. They could not see Redemption sitting at the Passover table with them, truth unfolding before their eyes.

Before they left the upper room of this Passover finale, Jesus gave them unleavened bread and fruit of the vine, and He called it His body and His blood. He told them to eat and drink it. As they remembered their slavery and emancipation from Egypt, they were now to remember Him. They did not comprehend then, but later they would, and thereafter they would think of Jesus life and death, the salvation He provided, each time they ate and drink in His name.

It happened on a Passover. The Lamb of God slain for the sake of the world. His death would mean deliverance and freedom, the like they had never known.

It is time to remember and prepare for the celebration.

Sunday grace

The world trembles. Men’s hearts fail them for fear. Uncertainty settles like a thick fog.

My thoughts turn repeatedly to people being thrust from their homes, families fleeing with the bare necessities. I wonder what I would pack in one suitcase in a frantic escape. I have no idea if this is the end, the culmination of time as we know it.

Trouble threatens, envelopes, and strangles. Oh Lord, have mercy!

As I sit with the Scriptures, I recall a much younger version of myself, many years ago, when Lamentations 3:22 and 23 became important and real to me.

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

Great is Thy Faithfulness. It is a favorite song. The ancient words have taken on modern melodies, while its truth is proclaimed by trusting voices, mine included. I remember how my Father was faithful to me. I call to mind, like Jeremiah, and I have hope.

While the world totters in wars and rumors of wars, people closer to me, friends and family, fight their own battles. I have mine. The enemy laser focuses his array of ammunition, not only on nations but on individuals, their minds and bodies. He uses his arsenal of pain, depression, and heartache. Is there dialog in Heaven, reminiscent of Job, about how far he is allowed to go with his unrelenting oppression?

I pray for people on the other side of the globe. I ask for God’s mercy, for His care over them. I pray for peace, knowing true peace is only found in the Prince of Peace. I pray for those near to me whose struggles I know more intimately. Those who endure long, who wait for a light in their tunnel, who hope for an answer, who pray without ceasing.

“In the world you shall have tribulation; . . . ” John 16:33

I don’t understand God’s ways. I often ask Him questions, and He is patient with me. Silent but patient. I wish I understood. But I don’t, because I am finite, and my capacity to comprehend is miniscule. I occupy a small place in history. It is temporary, my candle burning shorter. How can I expect to grasp the greater scheme, the blueprint of all eternity, the foundational plan?

. . . “but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

I take a breath, inhale the very Words of life, gasping as one pulled from drowning. These Words, exhaled into existence by the Eternal, were given so I could know the fullness of grace in the Beloved.

Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” John 11:40

I’m so glad the story of a desperate father seeking help for his diseased son was recorded in the gospel of Mark. In his honesty he replies to Jesus, “I believe. Help my unbelief.” The man pleads with Jesus, “If you can . . . .” Did Jesus chuckle at that? I wonder.

I do know Jesus can. I believe it with all of my being. How and when and in what way He will move toward His greater purpose, those things remain unclear to me. The mystery of Living God who answers to no man or woman, who lives in unapproachable light, whose full glory has not been seen by mortals, He alone knows His ways and His whys.

Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith and confidence in Me?” Mark 4:40

Fear is a weapon used against the children of God. Fear is tormenting and grabs my focus from the One who saves with His mighty arm. Fear asks too many questions: “What will happen next? How will I cope? Is this the end? Why me?” If I’m living in fear, I am not abiding in Christ.

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.” John 15:9

Abide, dwell, remain in the love of Christ. Take shelter in the secret place, under the watchful care of the Father who knows the hairs of my head, counts my tears, watches over my coming and going now and forevermore, and loves me with an everlasting love. Where else could I go but to Him?

I listen for His voice in the stillness of the morning while the birds wake and sing their sleepy refrains. I listen as I read His words written and preserved for me. I listen to songs of praise in the wearisome days of walking earth’s road. I listen. I sing along.

 “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me.” John14:1

As usual, I have no simple answers for the world’s unrest, for rising gas and food prices, for one friend’s family problems and another’s ongoing health struggles. Many of my inner conversations end with “I just don’t know.” What I do know is that God is faithful, just as Jeremiah confessed. I make the same confession. I’ve experienced it during my seven decades. I know His peace that passes understanding, even while I weep. I know His love that is beyond comprehending. I’ve been in His care since before I took my first breath.

The world with all of its pleasures and troubles will one day fade. The place we call home now will be made new and better, more beautifully perfect that I can dream of. My anticipation rises for something beyond my imagining. Until then, I will trust Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Their presence resides in this lowly, aging temple. There is nothing else to compare and no place else to go and no one who has the power to save.

“For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38-39

Sunday grace.

A waiting season

Lent began yesterday, March 2, with Ash Wednesday. It is a 40-day journey to the cross of Jesus Christ. It can be a time of preparation, a time to search my heart, and a time of surrender.

My childhood church did not participate in Lent, or even mention it, as I recall. I learned about Lent when I was hired as pianist by a small Methodist congregation. They met in a beautiful sanctuary where the rising sun on Easter morning shone through stained glass windows. My first experience of Lent was one of observation, listening, and learning the importance of this particular season. Since then, I pay more attention.

As the earth begins its rebirth after the cold, grey starkness of winter, the looking for life to emerge, it is appropriate that we should contemplate Jesus’ road to Calvary. Death to Life. The Gospel writers record in detail Jesus’ last days on earth. It was paramount to them. And it is to me.

Lent is the in-between time, an arrow pointing us to Jesus’ determined journey toward Jerusalem, knowing His death was imminent. It was the reason He came, the reason He took on flesh, born a helpless babe, to be cared for and nurtured by His very own creation.

These days are worth my consideration.

Remembering in the Scripture is more action than just brain activity. When the Bible records “God remembered,” it was usually a precursor to Him preparing to act. When Scripture tells me to remember, I am to pause and reflect, relive the event so that it has renewed importance.

And he [Jesus] took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” — Luke 22:19

At the start of the Lenten season, I ponder how to focus on Jesus’ Via Dolorosa. During the weeks leading us to Resurrection Sunday, I want to be intentional in opening my heart to the message that God was willing to pay my debt of sin, all because of love.

A thought comes from "40 Days, a Lenten Journey with Liz Curtis Higgs’ and The Women of Easter,” via Facebook.

What if I offered God my whole self, nothing held back?”

What if I decide to open my heart completely so my Father can heal and make whole? What if I give Him free reign to examine my thoughts? What if I surrender my actions, my plans and activities to His control? What if I really did offer my whole self to Him?

These questions call me to prayer.

Holy Spirit, help me offer my whole self to Thee, withholding nothing.
Amen. So be it.

Sunday grace

I wander through the house, wondering what I’m supposed to be doing. It feels like slow motion. I lose focus quickly, moving on without completing the current task. My planner has “to do’s” but I don’t always get them done. And it doesn’t seem to matter.

Life has changed forever with the death of one so dear. It’s not the first time I experienced this lostness, this drifting, this weeping, and it will not be the last. But in this moment of time, with my heart and mind fragmented, God speaks to the woundedness of my soul.

I don’t consider prerusing stores for gifts. I look to Amazon for help or the gift box upstairs that holds previous purchases with friends and family in mind. I hope my people will not be disappointed. I hope they will understand and say “It’s OK.”

Still, I call to mind that this season in December is for celebrating the Living God coming to a broken world to heal and make whole. I lean into His declaration that He Is With Me Always. Sweet relief. Indescribable comfort. I will turn my thoughts to this truth again and again in the days ahead.

On the Sunday before Christmas Day, I retrieve and repeat another year’s post that shouts the unchanging message: Jesus is Emmanuel.

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See the source image

December 2017
I’ve written it in notes and Christmas cards this December, these words I am holding close this season.

Emmanuel God with us.

The hurry and flurry of the holidays keeps us hopping. Our homes are decorated with reds and greens, the twinkling lights gracing shrubbery, windows and trees in our living rooms. Packages appear in brightly wrapped paper and gift bags. We wear our Christmas sweaters with pride.

Friends and family fill the spaces. We drink eggnog and eat too many Christmas cookies. Laughter rings through the house, and we are thankful for these people who gather at the table.

Yet, there are grieving hearts, longing souls, functions that are a little dysfunctional because we all have our own problems to deal with. Sometimes we put on a happy face so no one sees the pain, so we don’t rain on the parade as it marches down the street.

We get irritated with crazy drivers and clogged traffic, long shopping lines and the out-of-stock item we wanted under the tree. Checking accounts are running a little low, and there’s still a week of bills to pay. Our patience is in short supply when demands are made on us that feel more like obligations than celebration. We wonder if our Christmas spirit has gone into hiding.

December is much like every other month on the calendar, fraught with challenges and opportunities. We have a choice on where we will focus.

Emmanuel – In Hebrew: With us is God.

It was the prophecy of Messiah from the pen of Isaiah, re-written in Matthew as a reminder of its fulfilling.

These words, spoken to us by God over and over through our history, as if we are hard of hearing.

Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.    — Genesis 28:15

And He said, “My presence shall go with you, and I will give you rest.”   — Exodus 33:14

The LORD of hosts is with us; The God of Jacob is our stronghold. Selah.   — Psalm 46:7

Once more with a pronouncement from the angel Gabriel, God came to us wrapped in humanity, He whose name is Emmanuel.

Nativity

Very God grew and experienced life as I do, with all of its ups and downs, with vigor and weariness, with smiles and tears, with joyful celebrations and heartbreak of separation. He came as the “with us God” and demonstrated to us that we are not alone.

As He left this earth in a burst of clouded glory, He gave one final reminder to those who believed:

 “. . . And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”   — Matthew 28:20

Then sending the promised Holy Spirit, He remains with us in a way we could not have imagined.

Emmanuel. God is with us.

Do not fret or be afraid. Walk in the power of His presence. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad.

Our God is with us. His name is Jesus.

Christmas grace

I turned the calendar to December and thought to myself, “I’m not sure Christmas is coming this year.”

As the season of lights and trees, buying frenzies and parties unending approaches, my heart is heavy as one of our own lies in a hospital bed. Daily reports are up and down, back and forth. We rejoice in good news and then are cast to the ground in despair when the doctor gives his latest prognosis. It is a roller coaster of emotions and I can’t get my breath.

I cry and speak all the words I know to pray until I have nothing else to say. The Father knows what we need before we ask. Still, He invites me to come into His very presence and make my requests known. I have done that as much as I know how. I don’t know what else to do.

We pray. Friends and family pray with us. They help us carry this burden that is too weighty for us to bear alone. It is so far reaching I could not even count the miles as word spreads to pray for our dear one. I am amazed as the body of Christ comes together as one to agree in our petitions, for strength, for healing, for wholeness. It is as if we are really one, like Jesus prayed we would be.

I believe God is who He says He is and that He can do what He says He can do. I read that Jesus told His disciples to pray and not give up. I remember the story of a man with leprosy who came and knelt, saying “LORD, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” And Jesus said, “I am willing.”

I want to see this mountain cast into the sea. I want this storm quieted by Jesus own words of “peace, be still.” I want Him to say to me, to all who are praying for a miraculous healing, “I am willing.”

That is what I want.

He holds life and death in His hands. He breathes and we live. He determines our birth and our life’s ending. He rules the kingdoms of this earth and the kingdoms of our hearts. He is God and there is no other. He will do what He will do according to His own purpose and plan. There is nothing to do but bow the knee to the King of kings.

I call to mind the prayer of Habakkuk:

Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.

All that is left is to praise Him.

“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, who is and was and is to come–the Almighty.”

While it may seem the world goes its merry way to celebrate with the excesses we human’s lean toward, I ponder what Christmas is: the Holy One who made Himself small enough to come and be like us, to be with us, to suffer along side us, to be in us. He came in the muck and mire of humanity, took on our feeble flesh and pointed us to Salvation. Because He is Salvation, the One and only who can save us from ourselves. This is the reason we celebrate.

Though the outward shell of this body wastes away, because of Jesus it is well with my soul. It is well with my dear one’s soul. She is His child. He loves her more than I do, and He will do all things well.

Behold, He makes all things new.

Sunday grace

Standing at the check-out desk of the library, a former piano student turned library employee scanned my selections.

“Minimalism?” she queried, seeing several books on the topic. She’d been to my house and knew it was not my style. I told her I was always looking for ways to lighten my load, to clear the clutter, and to open up spaces. I try.

As I glanced through one of the books showing blank walls and table tops devoid of anything, I tossed it into the return-to-library stack. A different book by another author was more promising, motivating me to evaluate what is needed, what is beautiful, what brings memories, and discard the rest. Ah, I can do this.

Looking at the rooms where Sweet William and I have lived for well over 40 years, we have collected plenty. Books line shelves and sit in stacks on tables. Mementos adorn surfaces and shelter behind glass and in closed cabinets. Nested Corning Ware pans I got when we were newly married are still used regularly, and pots I inherited when my mother died are my go-to cookware.

I glance around and remember. The small birdhouses were painted by the grandchildren when they were small. Collected cookbooks hold treasured recipes from church ladies. A small desk lamp belonged to my dear Aunt Dottie. Delicate cups with saucers behind glass enclosures call to mind tea parties for grown ups and children alike. The figurines I call George and Martha Washington had their place in my parents’ home. Brass candlesticks on the coffee table were a gift from my uncle who liked exotic things.

Sweet William has his own collections of guitars and musical odds and ends, build and repair tools, and those semi-important miscellany to keep just in case we might need them someday.

The extra bedroom houses some dolls our grands used to play with. I keep them because friends have grandgirls who visit. The neighbors who live in the house next door have two little guys who look forward to the old matchbox cars that belonged to our son.

These are things remembered with multiplied memories attached. How can I toss them out? What if I forget what unfolded in my life?

Perhaps an unacknowled blessing is my ability to still remember the places, events, and people peppering our lives. Random things in this old house are triggers, promts that jog my brain and take me back to places visited, celebrations, and most importantly the people who have enriched me in ways I cannot even describe.

Reading the Holy Word I see it oft repeated by the Lord God, “remember.” Remember what the Lord did. Remember how He delivered. Remember that He provided. Remember His faithfulness. Remember He is your Redeemer.

On the night Jesus shared His last Passover with friends, He told them to remember. Drink the cup and eat the bread and remember. And we still share communion with brothers and sisters in Christ in order that we remember the death, burial, and resurrection of our Lord.

I need reminders of my spiritual journey, like my spiral note cards filled with Scripture verses, like hand-written notations in my Bible, like art work hanging on the walls of our home, like sharing with a friend how good God has been to me. I need reminders lest I forget.

Very slowly I’m looking in closets and drawers, trying to determine what can stay, what should go. I think about the when and where, the memory attached, the people who were part of it. I’m sure I will never be a true minimalist. It isn’t my nature. This old house is a museum of artifacts and our history, interesting finds, plunder from the journey, a story of who we are and where we’ve been.

In the process, let me hold to the good and true, the beauty of walking with Jesus through valleys and mountains, and recall the goodness of our God. It is well worth remembering.

Sunday grace.